[4 April 2002]

By Adam Weight

With the much heralded musical shift from the country-soul amalgam of Nixon, to the sparser, quieter textures of their latest offering Is A Woman, Lambchop have received much critical acclaim. Judging by the turnout tonight, some degree of commercial success could also be starting to appear on the horizon.

The venue steadily fills up as dark, edgy violins punctuate the chatter within the Dance Cave. By the time New Zealander David Kilgour starts his set, the place is already three-quarters full and the atmosphere is crackling with anticipation.

With chairs and tables set up around the sides of the stage, the Palace is perfectly suited to the relaxed nature of the music on display tonight.

Kilgour, playing with Lambchop minus Kurt Wagner, treats us all to his bittersweet guitar anthems, all flavored with pop sensibilities. He seems genuinely pleased to be on the same bill, nevermind the same stage, as the Nashville troubadours, and his classic songwriting skills go down well as an appetizer to the main attractions.

By the time Lambchop shuffle onto the stage it’s already well past 11pm but the atmosphere hasn’t deteriorated, and the opening track from Is A Woman, “The Daily Growl”, is given a beautiful reading to a rapturous reception.

Playing the bulk of their latest album, the quiet, hushed nature of the record requires some degree of concentration from the audience, but the respect is such that even the most whispered of vocals from Kurt Wagner are perfectly audible throughout the venue. There’s a real sense of friendship running through the entire gig, with the band and Wagner in particular seeming in good spirits, cracking jokes (“What do you call a drummer without a girlfriend? Homeless!”) and chatting with the audience.

Wagner introduces one song in particular as being “about a friend of mine’s urinary tract infection,” which garners a lot of sniggering from the audience until the song begins, and Wagner’s cracked, almost spoken vocals take the subject matter to another level. Halfway into the set and the first “Nixon” song is played, with the audience clearly pleased to hear the shift from the latest album to a more upbeat sound on “The Butcher Boy” It is a welcome move into noisier territory with the band locking into a groove and holding it for a few minutes before letting the tenderness creep back in.

Strangely this is where the highlights of the night mostly lie, when the band let go of the restraints and allow themselves to jam more freely. It also shows they are more than a one-dimensional alt-country band, and against the slowed down, whispered tones of the bulk of the set, the brief encounters with decibels really hit the mark.

Typically, Lambchop don’t play “Up With People”, their one stab at a chartbound single, and many fans favorite Lambchop song.

They do, however, finish with a romantic take on the Rolling Stones’ “Backstreet Girl” before Kurt chokes out an emotional farewell: “You guys have been great, I don’t know why that is but…it doesn’t happen where we come from.” With that, the band hop off the small stage, sign a few autographs, drink sour mash whiskey at the bar and relax with their fans.

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