By now, Lambchop fans have had a chance to hear the band’s daring new record, FLOTUS, a critically-acclaimed shot across the bow to anyone who would dare claim a classic artist can’t reinvent themselves. But back in September, at the Hopscotch Music Festival, fans were probably more ready for a show like the one we witnessed there in 2012, or any number of the band’s lauded full-band shows whose cast can stretch to over a dozen people. So when Kurt Wagner sang the first Vocoder-enhanced lines of “NIV” — a song nobody there had heard before — a fan might have been forgiven for being freaked out. When the entire show, including pre-FLOTUS material, continued in that vein, you have to imagine more than a few WTFs were exchanged. But that would have been a serious mistake, as not only are these new songs compelling in their own right, but the very fact of their existence says something special, too. Artists in the third decade of their career don’t often make these kinds of stylistic moves, and when they do, they often ring hollow. Wagner had already experimented with an electronic sound with his side project HeCTA in 2015, but for that to migrate to his main act represents an additional leap.
Wagner, on the other hand, has made a stripped-down, gorgeous album whose songwriting, pacing and structure (bookended by two epic-length tracks) are as equally of note as the dedication to the vocoder. The new sound echoes something essential about our era, taking a style once so resolutely organic and making it largely electronic. You feel both excited by the new possibility, yet threatened by the loss of something more natural, more human.
Here, in Raleigh’s comfortable Fletcher Opera Theater, those electronic tones were warmed up by not only the band’s physical presence, but Wagner and his bandmates’ banter, which alone was worth the price of admission. If he gets tired of music, pianist Tony Crow might well have a career in front of him as a comic sideman, as he traded jokes with Wagner throughout the night. Though this was the first time that many of these songs saw the light of day, it turns out that these versions are faithful to the album versions. Equally interesting were the FLOTUS-fied versions of earlier material like the standout Mr. M track “If Not I’ll Just Die” and several of its fellow Mr. M tracks. Stripped of that album’s lush arrangements, we’re left with arctic tone of Wagner’s altered words. The effect was unsettling but lovely, adding focus to Wagner’s words.
If you haven’t heard FLOTUS yet, I’d encourage you to give it a shot. Whether you knew Lambchop before or not, the album, and the quality of its songs, stands on its own as an of-the-moment document by an artist who has followed his own muse for decades. Also, I’d like to thank our friends at Merge Records for letting us post this recording. As eager as we were to share it with the world, both Merge and we thought the best thing was to hold back this live show of a large chunk of the new album until fans have gotten to hear it for themselves. Now, you can compare the two side by side.
I recorded this set with a soundboard feed and Schoeps MK4V microphones. The sound quality is outstanding. Enjoy!
Download the complete show: [MP3/FLAC/Apple Lossless]
Stream the complete show:
Hopscotch Music Festival
Fletcher Opera Theater
Raleigh, NC USA
Exclusive download hosted at nyctaper.com
Recorded and produced by acidjack
Soundboard + Schoeps MK4V (ROC, at SBD)>KC5>CMC6>Zoom F8>2x24bit/48kHz WAV>Adobe Audition CS 5.5 (compression, fades)>Izotope Ozone 5 (EQ, effects)>Audacity 2.0.3 (track, amplify, downsample, dither)>FLAC ( level 8 )
02 The Hustle
04 Poor Bastard
05 Old Masters
06 If Not I’ll Just Die
08 Gone Tomorrow
09 In Care of 8675309
11 Nice Without Mercy
13 Directions To the Can
14 [encore break]
15 When You Were Mine