When Lambchop rolls into town on March 4, leave your earplugs and urban-paced tendencies at home. The Nashville, Tenn. collective’s (s)low-key music is a sampling of the South that few East Coast urbanites ever get the chance to experience. Even though the group is in no hurry to win your approval — it has never altered its music to conform to current trends — you will recognize something special in every softly played note.
Lead singer/main songwriter Kurt Wagner doesn’t write simple songs. The lyrics and themes are usually hard to make sense of (one of their earliest singles was mysteriously titled “Soaky in the Pooper”), but the bright, heartfelt delivery and condensed emotionality of the music is a trademark.
Touring in support of its newest record, Is A Woman (Merge), Lambchop’s visit to the City of Brotherly Rock is a rare treat: touring is not an easy task when your band consists of 14 or more players. The North Star (26th and Poplar Streets), Philadelphia’s alt-country HQ, is the perfect locale for these country/funk/soul crusaders.
A band that revels in exploring a song’s instrumental and structural possibilities, Lambchop has led quite a prolific career. 2000’s fine singles compilation Tools in the Dryer followed five full-lengths and countless singles, cassettes and compilation tracks.
While past efforts have flirted with genres as diverse as indie rock and lounge, Is A Woman prominently features Wagner’s brooding voice and the Carole King-esque piano playing of Tony Crow. This de-emphasis on the interplay of a multitude of instruments gives the album an overall feel that Wagner aptly describes as “dark and breezy.” Is A Woman is easily one of Lambchop’s finest records.
It’s been 10 years since Merge released the band’s Nine 7-inch single, a rousing entrance into the indie rock stratosphere. Since then, Lambchop has evolved from pleasant rockers to America’s most unique — and unrecognized — musical outfit.
Despite Wagner’s fine songwriting and arrangement abilities (like a modern day Duke Ellington, he often writes with particular musicians in mind), mainstream success seems unlikely. Fittingly, Is A Woman indicates this group doesn’t give a donkey’s ass. For Lambchop, writing great songs is more rewarding than Pepsi commercials and airbrushed magazine covers.
Fans of non-famous legends will savor opener David Kilgour. Kilgour is a member of the seminal New Zealand rock group The Clean, whose 1986 Compilation LP is a virtual guide to high quality lo-fi rock. His new solo album, A Feather in the Engine (Merge), doesn’t capture the exuberant magic of his band, but documents his fondness for pop with skewed melodies.
Rumor has it Kilgour will join Lambchop on stage. When common goals (good tunes, served piping hot) and pure talent unite, don’t expect anything less than exceptionality.
Lambchop perform with David Kilgour at the North Star on Monday, March 4. Tickets are $14.