On a cold, wet Sunday evening, if one has to leave the dry comfort of their living room couch, there are few better places to go than the amber-glowing warmth of the Iðnó concert hall. This is where I was, hiding from the wind and the rain and waiting to see American alterna-country stalwarts Lambchop for the second time in one weekend. The previous night they played a last-minute-announced gig at KEX Hostel’s extended 4th of July party, which was as buoyant as the band gets, and in a brief meeting, frontman Kurt Wagner assured me that the Iðnó show would be “hardcore quiet”. Needless to say my expectations were set.
Opening act Lay Low appropriately matched that quiet tone Kurt told me he planned on setting. Her voice and guitar ducking around each other, shifting energy and intensity between every vocal line and chord strummed. Although her lyrics switch between English and Icelandic, there is definitely no need for “comprehension”, as she conveys so much through body language and delivery. She is consistently good at holding down a solo acoustic performance, seeming both vulnerable and fearless.
“Not too loud for you, is it?”
A brief set-break later and Kurt & co. arrived onstage to make their own case for quietude, beginning with “If Not I’ll Just Die”, the opener from their latest album, ‘Mr. M’. The assertiveness of his voice hushed down to a warble of emotion as he gently broke into song—“Don’t know what the fuck they talk about…”—somehow drawing tenderness out of the apathy of his very statement. As he swore his balls off in a near-whisper, sandwiched between the muted thumping of the drums and the moan of the oboe, I start to get what he meant. Hardcore quiet.
Suddenly from the back of the stage, a disembodied voice pops up—okay, I’m sure it had a body, I’m just really short—“We are Lambchop from the hit TV show ‘Nashville’, Tennessee and we are pleased to be here with you in Reykjavík,” the voice says, “wreaking havoc in Reykjavík.” He follows with a quote from a Nashville native (real life, not ABC drama) about peace, which his bandmember says is a “weird thing to say at a show”. It’s still nowhere near as off-colour as the later-recounted tale of a bandmember’s break from self-gratification and non-sexual family love for their frontman.
Nonetheless, the stories, much like the songs, are acutely subtle, ambiguous and very in-jokey. There is a sense of always being on-the-verge in the nuances of every song as the intensity rises, wavers, and shifts from leg to leg undecidedly. There is a sort of laid-back ambivalence to the delivery—he asks us to please not worry, but he doesn’t give us anything to be worried about. Rather than worry, the melodies actually give more of a sense of comfort, like a big hug with a pat on the back.
“Don’t be nervous now.”
In between songs, another tale from the stage, about in Nashville and making music and doing two things: huntin’ and fuckin’. “And what do you hunt?” he asks. “Something to fuck.” The punchline would have led seamlessly into the next song had Kurt not been chuckling hard enough to start in the wrong key. But this imperfection just adds to the beauty. Folks in the audience just turn, smile to each other and continue lulling along to the tunes.
The stories and slips are also what let one look right into the heart of the band—a little bit of grace, a little bit of southern style, and a whole lot of humour. This is where I truly understand them as a country band. They are grown-up story-tellers for folks who have loved, lost, lusted, and just laugh about it all because what the fuck else are you gonna do? Just make some music, work hard, and get some barbecue with your friends. Fuckin’ life, man!
Check out an interview with Lambchop’s front man here.