On the Lamb
We of The Spin love fall nights, and we reveled in an exceptional specimen as we trundled down Charlotte Avenue past the wall of thrift stores to The Stone Fox. We were grinning ear to ear, but more importantly we were hankering for a hot meal. Good thing we rolled up early for the announced-last-minute Lambchop show, because there was a sizable crowd also after a bowl of spicy gumbo.
The club, a new venture by brother-sister duo and industry veterans William and Elise Tyler, has only been open for a month, but it already feels established — like Cheers, with more Rhea Perlman and less Ted Danson. The eats are tasty, the bar selection is broad but not overwhelming, and the Tylers are using their powers for good in booking the venue. As we grubbed, we spied Lambchop frontman Kurt Wagner and his venerable ensemble setting up, and we noted how quick they were, but it shouldn't be much of a surprise — after 25 years in various incarnations, this part is old hat.
Lambchop is a musical chameleon, bending a wide range of styles around Wagner's gentle melancholy and dry wit. Over the years, a variety of notable musicians have moved through the group's ranks, including pedal steel wizard Paul Niehaus, master engineer and producer Mark Nevers, skilled singer-songwriter Paul Burch, and guitar guru William Tyler himself. Thursday night's five-piece featured the current core lineup: Scott Martin on drums, Matt Swanson on bass, Tony Crow on piano, Ryan Norris on organs and guitar, Meadownoise's Matt Glassmeyer with a small arsenal of wind instruments, and leader Wagner with his trademark feed store cap in the guitar station.
Shortly, they opened the set with a bubbling and shimmering instrumental homage to the master of the house (who, as far as we could see, was not in attendance), "Being Tyler," which introduces their 2004 record Aw C'mon. The arrangement was jazzy and intricate, but the players avoided flashy ornamentation that would draw attention to their considerable skills. Wagner kept his guitar tone dark and smooth, and finessed his attack so that it sounded more like a third piano woven in with the other two, while Glassmeyer's reeds evoked a sunny afternoon somewhere in Europe. Dang, there weren't even any lyrics yet, and we were feeling poetic.
The trend of unforced virtuosity continued, as the band gave the impression that this is what they'd be doing even if they were alone in their living room. Subtlety was key — of the kit, only the bass drum was mic'd for the PA. Many in the audience sat cross-legged at the foot of the stage. Glassmeyer joined Martin in the rhythm section with a modified acoustic guitar played like a washboard, and then began to play the only bass clarinet we've ever seen in the wild.
Wagner checked a stack of lyric sheets, some of which were faded and dog-eared. Though the band was decidedly subdued, we sometimes lost his soft singing underneath the chatter of the jean-jacketed crowd. As we moved around the room for a better listen, we recognized "Nice Without Mercy" from Mr. M — Lambchop's most recent record and a tribute to the late Vic Chesnutt, a close friend of Wagner's whom they backed up on his classic The Salesman and Bernadette. Then, of course, there was a cameo from the diminutive but always mellifluously voiced local powerhouse Cortney Tidwell, Wagner's foil in the excellent side project KORT. No one sings like Tidwell. But rather than a KORT song, Tidwell joined in on another tune from Mr. M — we're fairly certain it was the lovely and understated "2B2."
After thanking us, Wagner counted off the closing number and the most driving of the night, "You Masculine You" from 2000's Nixon. Even at their energetic peak, the group remained restrained and focused, and flourishes like pinging an unmic'd gong from an old clock were left to be noticed or not. This was definitely more like a live art exhibit than a rock 'n' roll show, but a Spin can't live on beats 2 and 4 alone. Full of soup, beer and Lambchop, we drifted contentedly for the ol' sack.
Lest we forget
When it comes to television's Nashville, the fictitious depiction of reality here in Music City, The Spin can't help but think that there's a substantially remarkable dimension to our city that is deserving of its own series. Still, we hope it never comes to fruition. We're just not sure how recasting and fictionalizing the events of a locally stocked cavalcade of talent like the one at Exit/In Saturday night could possibly be made any better.
That obligatory pre-show PBR at The Gold Rush is almost always responsible for us walking in mid-set — this time on openers Poly, who were shucking and jiving through their quirky, old-time twee jubilee of jazzy pop tunes straight out of the postmodern American songbook. Watching the trio of multi-instrumentalists — mostly former Hotpipe Dan Sommers — pull from a seemingly bottomless bag of ukes, banjos, percussion bits and noisemakers of which The Spin does not know the names is a pretty dazzling spectacle in and of itself. These intricately yet minimally orchestrated ditties, fashioned after a long-gone era, get heavy on the chops but otherwise stay light and fancy-free — given the fact that none seems to concern anything much heavier than scissors, cats and sidewalk chalk.
Next up, all-star ensemble By Lightning! made a whole lot of ruckus with more than their share of capable hands — their lineup of course features the likes of Joel J. Dahl and wife Serai Zaffiro, Matt Moody, Jerry Pentecost and a few more. The result is a veritable tsunami of epic hook-laiden classic Southern American pop that washes smoothly over the room with the help of silky organ sounds and sweetly soulful female backing vocals. Singers Dahl and Moody crooned away, sandwiched between grimy blues-guitar licks and a powerful, thumping underlying groove strong enough to scare all those bland Americana pitfalls far away.
The hype for headliners Forget Cassettes was rekindled when each opener reiterated their imminent appearance. The latest outfit from singer-songwriter E.G. Cameron — an indelible force around these parts for several years now — represents more a change of name than a return to roots. In its original form, Cassettes was simply Cameron and drummer Doni Schroader shredding a heavy, emotionally charged and technically adept sort of indie rock. More resembling the setup of Cameron's previous project Eliza the Arrow, the sheer amount of synthesizers onstage told us this was all but a reunion act.
Cameron's new band carries all the brunt of its previous form, placing the delicate force of her voice amid soft, slow interludes to serve as a calm before the booming storm of drums and guitar. Only this time, the storm was built on a low-end piano rumble and synthetic sub-bass, accented with electronic squeals, glitches, samples and loops. Even when Cameron put down her ax to free up her fingers for more keys, the band never fully crossed over into "electronic music" territory. Rather, this was still heavy rock executed with slightly different weapons. Old fans and friends were warm, receptive and outspokenly approving. We'll just have to wait to see if the rest of Nashville follows suit.