Feasting On Lambchop at LA’s Bootleg Theater

Jun 6th, 2017 in Music

Artwork by Tad Wagner*

Following their mesmerizing show on Saturday at the Bootleg Theater, Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner tweeted that the show was the “Best LA show ever thanks to all who made it happen out west.” Having never seen them live, we can’t gauge the historicity of Wagner’s tweet. But we can tell you that the show was one of our favorite shows of this or any other year. 

Like many in the capacity audience, we’ve revelated off of Lambchop’s potent albums for nearly 20 years, including recently with the colossal increase of last year’s astonishing FLOTUS. Given that discography and their rare visits to the western coast, the audience’s anticipation was alpine at the Bootleg.

Wagner and band ambled onto stage and opened with the life-examining Writer and thereafter focused almost exclusively on FLOTUS’ songs (minus the album’s title-song). Fortunate us. While many might have wanted to hear more older nuggets from the band’s rich discography, no one could fault Wagner for flashing foremost his late-career pivot into FLOTUS’ electronic/vocoder-based sounds and vocals. Who else this deep into their musical career has risked such a quantum leap and arguably dropped the best album of their career?

On this leg of their tour, Lambchop’s chopped and augmented crew featured Wagner, long-time members Tony Crow (on keyboards and quips) and Matt (“Big Hands”) Swanson (on nimble bass), and Wye Oak’s wunderkind drummer/effecter, Andy Stack. For his part, Wagner mostly stood at microphone with his left hand tapping his vocal processor that roosted atop a vintage suitcase, while shuffling well-used lyric sheets onto the suitcase (his “paperprompter”?). The juxtaposition of modern electronics and antiquarian props perfectly aped the FLOTUS gestalt. With his right leg forward, slightly-crouched and rocking back-to-front, Wagner alternated between auto-croon and seething intensity, all to great effect.

Highlights of the set included a redacted take on The Hustle with Wagner strapping on his hollow-body and hollowing out hearts with his poignant ode to long-lived love, as capped off by Crow’s piano coloratura.  In Care Of 8675309, possibly THE best song of 2016, was alone worth the price of admission. Pushed to mid-set, the sagacious song again featured Wagner scratching out rhythm guitar and schooling with his alternately sweet and fiercely-vivid processed vocals. Nothing better. More up-tempo numbers included the funkified JFK (its “talk too much” refrain reminding of this song from Mary Margaret O’Hara), Old Masters and Relatives No. 2.  Only a few older songs made the setlist, but 2002’s The New Cobweb Summer was jazz-inflected and highly-affecting. And Poor Bastard (“from the Posterchild days” said Wagner) and encore-closer My Blue Wave served as stunning reminders of the emotional wreckage that Wagner can wrangle from well-chosen words.

The Bootleg was the last show of their U.S. tour before they had back to their seemingly-preferred Europe for festivals and seasonals. We hope they will soon look west and return near-term to California. When they do, don’t you miss ’em.

*First in a series of concert review artwork by the supremely talented (other) Mr. Wagner.

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