Celtic Connections 2015: Lambchop, Old Fruitmarket, Sat 31 Jan (3 stars)

Kurt Wagner's band perform their 2000 album Nixon in its entirety

Celtic Connections: Lambchop, Sat 31 Jan

Lambchop / Credit: Bill Steber

As part of the closing stages of this year's Celtic Connections programme, Kurt Wagner's Lambchop have returned to Glasgow to play their 2000 album Nixon, in its entirety.

Opening with the first lulling bars of ‘The Old Gold Shoe’, Wagner's low, warming grumble blows out of his mouth like small plumes of smoke and into the air already busy with scattered, glassy keys, warm touches of guitars and restrained, crisp percussion. ‘Grumpus’ and ‘You Masculine You’ maintain the vibe yet barely break the silence as they do, reverberating around a room bereft of anything other than hushed drinks orders and an admittedly ill-placed floorboard orchestra heard from the balcony above.

Playing in support of the Tennessee man hidden tonight by a large overhanging baseball cap, the rest of the band are almost all seated alongside him and approach the ensuing set with a soft, steady pace: relaxed and perfectly nuanced, they lightly lift him up, never overstepping or overdoing, in keeping with the album's fairly languid aesthetic.

Wagner will later joke with the audience about the many people who regularly tell him of the experiences they've had to Nixon. These range from first kisses to sexual experiences, proposals and getting over break ups. Given the lush, gentle nature of the record, it feels like an apt soundtrack for moments of intimacy, or background musical support to scenes of general loveliness.

However, it also appears to be the reason why my eyes start to slowly creak like the floorboards of the Fruitmarket balcony, straining heavier and heavier with every continuing cut as Wagner's crew stir through Nixon's winding tracklist with an entrancing and consistent plod.

It doesn't help that visually, in this seated almost cocktail bar set-up, there's little else to take away from the performance itself; little to break up the rhythm or to steer the set anywhere drastically different while covering an album that lends itself largely to one particular style/mood.

As a band, they perform this work almost effortlessly, but as entertainment, or as a performance, it struggles to be anything other than a quiet gift to a loyal audience, barely offering more than your favourite album being played in the flesh from start to finish. To be honest, this might be all that anyone wants, but it's tougher to enjoy it as a night in itself more than just a novelty event.

Still, while the moments of grandeur, loveliness and humour at play within Nixon are hardly throwaway, perhaps this is an album for personal listening (and even lovemaking?) and not a sold-out hall on a Saturday night.

Reviewed at Celtic Connections 2015, Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, Sat 31 Jan


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