Kurt Wagner sings about "taking pictures with a phone" on the song "Nice Without Mercy." But the Lambchop front man probably never anticipated audiences taking the line to heart.
At Lambchop's show Wednesday night at World Cafe Live, a few couples came down to the front of the stage to pose for photos, with a bemused Wagner as their backdrop.
"We'll sign the wedding photos you've been taking for an additional charge," he joked later, shaking his head and proclaiming the night Lambchop's "weirdest" gig. That was after one of the photogenic pairs climbed onto the stage, slow-dancing to a cover of Billy Joe Shaver's theme song from Squidbillies.
No surprise Lambchop would attract eccentrics. For nearly 20 years, Wagner and his ever-shifting Nashville band have been creating an idiosyncratic blend of countrypolitan, Motown soul, lounge music, post-rock, and show tunes. The bulk of Wednesday's set was drawn from the band's stunning new album Mr. M. Its lush strings were absent, performed instead by a core five-piece band sounding like ace country session musicians tuned in from a distant, hazy radio broadcast.
Wagner's songs are designed to sound lived-in, as if they've been around long enough to dissipate a bit, fade like well-worn jeans. It's a style matched by his voice, which seems to be traveling back down his throat as often as it comes out. At World Café, clad in a black baseball cap and a bright red shirt, he often seems to be less singing than forming the words as shapes in the air, as he sat and plucked his guitar with sudden, jerky motions.
"I'm not the kind of man to live comfortably," he sang in "The Good Life (Is Wasted)," pitched between a heartbreaking confession and a curmudgeonly grumble. The band was mesmerizing, maintaining a tightly controlled sound that nonetheless gave a free-floating, nebulous impression, with special impact when more force was needed, as in the final moments of "Nice Without Mercy."
Philly singer/songwriter Meg Baird opened with a short set of her haunting, melancholy songs, solo and accompanied by a guitarist and harpist.