Lambchop’s FLOTUS has been acclaimed as a daring reinvention, and indeed few of us would have expected Kurt Wagner’s outfit to stray from their left-field brand of Americana into a world of autotuned vocals and, yes, even the odd trap beat. But this narrative of a reinvented band misses the fact that the band have always traced a unique and at times bizarre path. Find me another alt-country band that would, say, choose to release a concept album centred around the Nixon presidency.
The iciness of these new electronic elements lend an air of fragility, a tension that is very evident in the room as the band remain remote and quiet at the back of the stage. The vocal effects act as a mask that might allow Wagner to both indulge and play with a set of lyrics more private than usual. Slowly the thaw sets in, and soon enough the piano player is cracking ever more weird and confusing jokes. It occurs to me that Kurt Wagner may have just decided to stay silent in order to coax out of him ever more awkward sex stories.
Drummer Andy Stack, of Wye Oak, looks on in amused confusion, and though his contributions are limited, they are the most notable instance of Lambchop’s “new sound” beyond Wagner’s vocals. “Directions to the Can” in particular stands out as one of the grooviest tracks Lambchop have produced in a while, aided by a subtly filthy hip-hop-inspired bass line.
By the end of the night if Wagner is getting close to talkative, and his use of the vocal effects switches from understated to enthusiastically experimental. They announce their last song as a cover, and as people whoop at the first couple of chords Wagner laughs out loud and calls them out: “this could be any song.” In fact it is a very Lambchop-ified cover of Prince’s “When You Were Mine”.