“I just realised… this song sounds exactly like all the other songs,” deadpans Lambchop mainman Kurt Wagner towards the end of his band’s appearance at the Barbican.

He’s being unfair on himself, of course. Two decades into their career, there is a familiarity to Lambchop’s music, but they’ve sustained themselves for so long because of their subtle quirks – Wagner’s wry lyrics packed with in-jokes and obscure references, an easy blend of often disparate genres, a wide and often bizarre range of instruments. Listen closely, and each song has a distinct personality of its own.

That said, tonight’s set presents a very particular vision of Lambchop’s music. Wagner and six accomplices blend country-porch songs with piano-jazz and light blues, and while not a second was unenjoyable, anyone who has listened to their simultaneously released albums 'Aw C’mon' and 'No You C’mon'(2004) will know that their musical range can extend far wider.

Lambchop return to the Barbican tonight, armed with the knowledge that their eleventh full album ('Mr. M') that has enjoyed the most attention and the kindest reviews since 2000’s classic ‘Nixon’. Almost all of the set comes from this new album.

It is written into the pop-journalist’s code of conduct that any review of Lambchop has to mention how little noise seems to be made by so many people. With seven people on stage, Lambchop are half the size they were when they first performed at the Barbican a decade ago. But, even so, it all feels remarkably hushed, markedly restrained. The drums ripple lightly, piano floats in and out, Wagner lightly strums his guitar.

And yet, having never seen Lambchop live before, I’m struck by the power of Wagner’s voice. On record, it rarely rises above a whisper, and you often have to strain to find out what each song is about. Yet, tonight, while he never exactly belts the songs out, his voice is clear and strong, and he sounds less and less like a country-croaker, and more like the jazz crooner you imagine he really writes his songs for. Backing vocals from tonight’s support act Cortney Tidwell, with whom Wagner recorded an album of duets in 2007, are invaluable, adding more colour to every song.

The band’s arrangement on stage, in a semi-circle with Wagner to the far left, creates the impression of a democratic arrangement. In fact, Wagner’s idiosyncratic vocal phrasing is the drive behind every song played (it’s impossible to imagine how that couldn’t have been the case), with the rest of the band providing improvisational flourishes around his words. Although Wagner’s words are often plain weird, it feels like the whole band is playing to them (not just with them).

The performance is a curious mix of the concert formality you’d expect in the Barbican, more often used for classical music and the banter you’d expect from Lambchop, who were known in their early days as “Nashville’s most fucked up country band.” This duopoly is best summed up by the contrast between the suits worn by most of the band, and Wagner’s baseball cap.

We are more than halfway through the show before anyone says anything to the audience. At one point, Wagner teases us by leaning into the microphone, before pulling away with a grin and cracking on with the next song. In the second half of the set though, there is plenty of joking around, mainly led by pianist Tony Crow. At one point, there is even a Morrissey impression. The band’s humility is best summed up by their presence hanging around outside the venue with cigarettes as we all leave.

Some fans will doubtless be disappointed by the absence of songs from ‘Nixon’. It’s a desert island disc for me too, so I can’t deny it would have been nice to hear some of it. Famously Lambchop didn’t even play songs from 'Nixon' on the tour arranged to promote it, instead debuting songs from 'Is A Woman' instead, so I wasn’t too surprised. Luckily, I enjoyed the songs they did play. A beautiful performance of 'The Man Who Loved Beer' was the crowd-pleaser in the set.

“If you’ve seen us once, you’ve seen us a thousand times,” Wagner jokes as he returns for an encore. That may be true, but even if I’d seen Lambchop a thousand times, I bet I’d have enjoyed them all.

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Commenting On: Barbican, London, 1/3/2012 - Lambchop

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20673 Posted By: Myshkin (London)

Can someone please explain to me the appeal of Lambchop. They seem to have made a very nice career out of simply making the same album over and over again.

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