Tim Burgess is singing The Charlatans' "The Only One I Know" as a rueful acoustic reverie, finding new, profound power in its simple words.
The band’s first top ten hit, at the height of Madchester 23 years ago, sounds unexpectedly enduring. Few would have thought then that Burgess, too, would prove the most interesting and creative of that Northwestern generation, and its strongest, most soulful singer.
His restlessness can be seen in the box of 7-inch singles in the foyer from his record label, O Genesis, a rollicking autobiography, and best of all tonight’s triumphant collaboration with Nashville’s Lambchop. It’s the culmination of last year’s solo album Oh No, I Love You, which Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner wrote the lyrics for during Burgess’s stay in Nashville. An unlikely bridge is built here between Madchester, Britpop and alt.country, and two sensitive souls.
Lambchop open with a 90 minute set. A sextet tonight, they’re suited and keep their heads down, intent on playing music which dares to be soft, slow and unthrilling. It’s built around Wagner’s words, which focus on odd details to build pictures through allusive, lyrical sleight of hand - when you can hear them, as his voice snatches and swallows syllables. On “Nothing But A Blur From A Bullet Train”, clarinet, piano and brushed cymbal emphasise the strokes of his guitar. When Burgess guests on one of their collaborations, “Tobacco Fields”, he perches diffidently on the monitor. The two men, friends in Nashville, seem embarrassed to see each other on stage.
Burgess’s own set sees musicians come and go as required, with organic openness. Bolstered by strings, there’s a rich, resilient sadness in “A Man Needs To Be Told” matched by Burgess’s voice, slipping easily between high and low registers. The slow, cyclical “A Case for Vinyl” would feel suspended and tense if it wasn’t so lovely. About a break-up and its acceptance, and its residue in piles of LPs, it’s the greatest song he or Wagner have recorded in years, realised to the full on the night it was made for.
By the closing “A Gain”, Lambchop and Burgess’s excellent musicians have come together in a crashing climax as a swelling, unorthodox country-gospel-soul big band. Wagner, diffident to a fault earlier, is howling and pointing, transported. The stars these men aimed for are reached.