Maggie Rigby is just starting out on her own after more than a decade as part of The Maes with her sister Elsie, so the highly polished and professional performance is not too surprising. Despite being the largest audience she’s ever played to, Rigby is chatty (perhaps overly so!) and easygoing, providing nice context to her songs (mostly about break-ups, as per her new EP, Best Love in the Universe). However, there is one song that stands out (seemingly unnamed), telling the story of a family displaced from Graulin, Skye, during the Highland clearances and moved to Wadawurrung in Australia. It’s a moving meditation on the legacies and trauma of colonialism and the way such acts of violence still resonate today. Rigby will also perform this as part of the An Tinne show with Anne Martin later this week.
Tonight’s Lambchop show is an “intimate piano performance” with just main man Kurt Wagner up front and Andrew Broder (a key collaborator on the last couple of albums) on piano. It’s a little different to Wagner’s recent experiments with autotune and midi-piano, or the orchestral flourishes he frequently employs, but the arrangements are beautifully realised and accentuate the key tenets of what has made Lambchop such an enduring act of the past 30 years.
With such sparse backing, Wagner is able to give full voice to his tales of losers, weirdos, joy and abstract surrealism. However, it’s all delivered in his deep, earnest baritone as he saunters about the stage, conducting out of time like a whimsical Michael Gira. The humour of the music is enlivened by the commitment to his loungey style, especially on the Gwen Stefani interpolation on That’s Music and the Talking Heads outro of Give It. And sometimes it’s captured in a line reading worthy of the theatre stage he’s on, like “Fred MacMurray was a…motherfucker!” that closes Daisy or “Better put your spacesuit on/ If you do me wrong” on A Major Minor Drag. There’s also the wonderfully meta cover of Sun June’s Listening (to Lambchop by myself again).
Although the focus is obviously on Wagner, Broder in an integral part of this performance. He hunches over the piano like Glenn Gould, and the comparison holds up in the way he can veer from intricate, skittering melodies to wild mashing to featherlight trills. He provides occasional backing vocals, but doesn’t get a solo until he takes on Madison Hallman’s part on penultimate song, Police Dog Blues. Almost of the 2022’s The Bible is played and it’s amazing how these versions work shorn of the horns and strings that pepper that album. There’s no sense that these are stripped-back, but remain fully-formed thanks to the power of Wagner’s vocals and Broder’s gorgeous piano.
The show strangely runs almost continuously, with Broder playing straight from one song into the next, so when there’s finally a pause for applause after 50 minutes, the response is near apocalyptic compared to the pin-drop silence that preceded. There may be little in the way of Celtic connection to this performance, but you’ll be hard pushed to find a better one this year, regardless of the framing.