As anyone in DC knows, this city can get a little high strung at times. It can be a stressful, restless place where hanging out at a club, bar, or show doesn’t necessarily mean the work talk is over. Looking for that next network opportunity is always lurking behind that seemingly friendly conversation. It’s both an advantage and limitation of this great city, but sometimes it makes it difficult to just take a breather and relax. That’s why we all just need a button that can cue Lambchop when we find ourselves stuck in these behaviors and situations.
Focused around the creative nucleus of Nashville via Maryland resident Kurt Wagner, Lambchop is a musical collective that plays what is best described as “country lounge music.” Utilizing a lyrical delivery that is somewhere between a crooner from the 1950’s and a poet reading his latest passages into the microphone, Wagner makes the performance feel more like a conversation with an old friend who has a knack for great storytelling.
All the while, the band and Wagner are intently listening to one another so that they can provide the right musical flourishes that create the appropriate emotional backdrop for his insightful tales. The quintet combined relaxed, sparse layers of sound to create a performance that might have more in common with free jazz and spoken word than it does your standard alt-country fare. Lambchop’s music sounds right at home as the soundtrack to a David Lynch Spaghetti Western or some lost 1970’s biopic about a musician who released one album and then walked quietly into the sunset of the desert, never to be found again (see Jim Sullivan for said adventure).
Overall, if there is one thing I walked away with from this show, it would be an education and appreciation for musical restraint. Many bands rely on an approach that involves filling every musical space with a wall of sound by turning the amps to 11, dropping in the booming electronic dance beat, or playing eighteen keyboard layers as they journey to the center of the Earth on Rick Wakeman’s cape. And maybe I’m just getting a few too many grey hairs lately, but Lambchop reminded me that the empty spaces in between the notes you play are just as important as the ones played. As a musician, having this kind of restraint to understand the power of both musical spaces is a telling sign that these are truly talented musicians.
Even during songs like “Gone Tomorrow”, which weirdly enough had a hint of a soft Phish jam at the end, each drum beat and bass note seemed strategically placed, while at the same time feeling loose and free flowing with open spaces that moved like an improvised jazz passage. And this was when you felt the tension and stress in everyone's backs and necks ease up a bit. By the end of the night, Lambchop had turned Iota into the most relaxed family room in DC, where people quickly put their DC talk aside and took a long, hypnotized breather that was well needed.