Lambchop's first Tucson performance was a hushed and delicate affair—no surprise, considering the mellow frequency on which Kurt Wagner's gorgeous and off-kilter songs live.
Even for a band that tours infrequently, it's a surprise that two decades and 11 albums hadn't previously brought the Nashville band to Tucson, especially considering Wagner has collaborated with opener Howe Gelb. But credit the rarity of the show for the crowd's near total silence, full attention and warm appreciation.
Impressively quiet yet full and intricately textured, the sound of Lambchop is unmatched anywhere—alt-country intertwined with lounge-jazz that lets Wagner's restrained warble flitter about.
Arranged in a semicircle, Wagner, pianist Tony Crow, keyboardist/guitarist Ryan Norris, bassist Matt Swanson and drummer Scott Martin packed the first part of the show with nearly the entirety of Mr. M, the band's new, excellent album. Dedicated to the late Vic Chesnutt, Wagner's friend and fellow songwriter, Mr. M is perhaps definitive in showcasing how Wagner can sustain a quiet melancholy that grows more rewarding the closer you listen. Songs like "If Not I'll Just Die," "2B2," "Gone Tomorrow" and "The Good Life (Is Wasted)" are filled with memorable lines and careful details—impressionistic and inscrutable at the same time.
After reaching into the back catalog for a couple songs—"Interrupted" (1998) and "My Blue Wave" (2002)—Wagner jokingly asked the crowd if they were depressed yet, then introduced the next tune, "N.O." as a "big fucking bummer." Then came the bathroom-suicide song "Soaky in the Pooper" and the encore of "Magnificent Obsession," both even darker.
Ahead of Lambchop was Gelb, first solo on the piano, and then backed by some of the newest members of his expanded Giant Giant Sand, including Brian Lopez and Gabriel Sullivan, both on guitar. Previewing songs from his forthcoming album, a "country rock opera," the band took a ramshackle approach to new tunes like "Forever and a Day."
Howe turned the mic over to Lopez and Sullivan for a song apiece before announcing surprise guest vocalist KT Tunstall (the Scottish singer is in town to record her latest album) for a charmingly unrehearsed but passionate cover of The Band's "Out of the Blue," dedicated to the late Levon Helm.