Lambchop, Dome, Brighton

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The Independent Culture

It was only after the release of Nixon, Lambchop's acclaimed sixth album, that Kurt Wagner, Nashville's most reluctant star, gave up his day job laying and sanding floors.

It was only after the release of Nixon, Lambchop's acclaimed sixth album, that Kurt Wagner, Nashville's most reluctant star, gave up his day job laying and sanding floors. Adjusting to his new life like a born nine-to-fiver, Wagner set himself the task of writing a song every day. From the resulting stockpile of songs, he finally alighted on 24 for this year's double album Awcmon/Noyoucmon. A woozy blend of lo-fi country and southern soul, it's an exquisitely hushed piece of work - in some instances, the volume is turned down so low that you can almost hear the creak of Wagner's chair as he sings.

Songs from this album make up the bulk of tonight's set which clocks in - if you include the brief intermission - at a staggering two and a half hours. Wagner's skewed humour and wry observations about the human condition are stamped all over these tracks, with lyrics that are once familiar and beguilingly elusive. "Four Pounds in Two Days" tackles dieting while "Action Figure" ("I've watched bugs all afternoon/I've swallowed beer like a cartoon") sends up his favourite songwriting spot - his back porch.

After years of touring with upwards of 25 musicians, Wagner has whittled Lambchop down to a band of eight, incorporating piano, guitars, drums, pedal steel and keyboards, though tonight he has invited a Polish string quartet along for the ride. Amid this formidable ensemble, Wagner's voice remains crucial to the Lambchop sound. He sings in halting, hesitant tones - one moment in a rich baritone, the next a frail falsetto. On the occasions where the musicians fall silent and Wagner's voice is a whisper, you can feel the audience collectively holding its breath.

Installed on a chair centre-stage in jeans and baseball cap, Wagner is as bashful as ever, blushing at applause and noisily clearing his throat when the pianist, Tony Crow, introduces him to the crowd. In between songs he repeatedly thanks us for coming, as if astounded that anyone turned up at all. Small-talk is kept to a minimum, however, and it's up to Crow to warm up the proceedings with tales of his last visit to Brighton.

It's testament to Wagner's skills both as a songwriter and musical visionary that he, along with his band, manages to keep our attention from start to finish. Perhaps noting criticism of Lambchop's last tour for being too low-tempo, this time around they frequently pick up the pace. "The Gusher" moves artfully between polite dinner jazz and a punk-rock hoe-down; during the encore the mood is again lifted with "Up with People", a 2000 track which helped turn the Nashville ensemble into a viable commercial endeavour. For the first time the audience get up out of their seats and sing along with joyous abandon. Smiling enigmatically, Wagner gives a tiny wave and leaves the stage.



Touring until 19 April

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