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Lambchop - The Barbican, London 31/01/15

02 February 2015, 10:00 | Written by

At the turn of the millennium, Kurt Wagner and his ever-shifting band released what many would consider their magnum opus, a ten-track slab of soul-tinged Americana named after the disgraced 37th President of the United States. In many ways Nixon could be considered a peculiar choice of title. Whilst the real Tricky Dicky was known for arrogance, brashness and deception, Lambchop's M.O. is starkly different- straightforward, embellished with subtle flourishes, and with no apparent urge to wage war on Vietnam. But regardless of its associations with that most morally dubious of characters, it's a delightful listen, and one well deserving of its critical reputation.

At the time, Lambchop didn't really tour Nixon, their attention having swiftly turned to its downbeat follow-up, Is A Woman. Thankfully, Wagner has decided to belatedly rectify this sad state of affairs by performing the entire record back-to-back in honour of its fifteenth anniversary. Now, more often than not these "Don't Look Back"-style affairs don't necessarily flatter an artist. Sure, there's the few hits everyone remembers, and a couple of forgotten gems deserving of an overdue airing, but in most cases a band will have consigned a good portion of an album's tracks to setlist oblivion with very good reason. That's not the case here. From the upbeat alt-country of "Up With People" to the old-school Philadelphia soul leanings of "What Else Could It Be?" to a stripped-down rendition of "The Butcher Boy", there's not much flab here at all. Admittedly, one or two tracks veer a bit too close towards Smooth FM territory, but the overall lushness of the set more than make up for its occasional MOR moment.

Whilst the composition of tonight's band is less ostentatious than their "fourteen musicians clad in denim and pearl" heyday, there's still around ten people on stage to recreate the mellow, rich orchestration that underlies Wagner's distinctive falsetto, although it's a shame that the more gospel-influenced moments are downplayed or excised entirely. The unusual timbre of Wagner's voice may not be to everyone's tastes- warm, slightly cracked, but not always tuneful- but the songs would be much diminished without its unique character, and the contributions of snarky pianist Tony Crow and woodwind maestro Matt Glassmeyer cannot be understated either. The band aren't exactly dynamic to watch, but that's not necessarily a criticism in this case- indeed, one might even argue the best way to enjoy a Lambchop performance is to sit down, close your eyes tight, and let the music wash over you.

With the album only clocking in at 50 minutes, there's ample room for an encore (or two), of which the covers of Curtis Mayfield's "Give Me You Love" and David Bowie's "Young Americans" are the undoubted highlights. One may might have questioned the wisdom of the whitest band alive covering a blaxplotation-era classic, but Wagner's high pitch is a perfect fit for the song, and of course, you can never go wrong with Bowie, especially with musicians this accomplished. A delightfully understated evening all told, and one, unlike Richard Milhous' presidency, that ended on a high note.

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