I’m chatting to Kurt Wagner, who I’ve just bumped into at the back of The Borderline and because I haven’t seen him for years, I’m gabbing away and don’t realise that I’ve actually interrupted him on his way to the stage for his headlining appearance at another great Club Uncut night.
He listens politely as I blather on, not trying to be too obvious about the fact that he’s by now actually looking for a way around me, the stage and another packed crowd waiting for him. At which point he says he has to be going and starts to make his way through the crowd in front of him, taking them as much as me by surprise when he suddenly starts singing, quite loudly, what sounds like some old blues holler, Kurt getting louder as he gets closer to the stage, people wondering quite what’s going on here.
I actually wonder if he might be a bit drunk, but this turns out to be his opening number, an a cappella version of “Give It”, which he recorded with X-Press 2, which he continues to sing with a surprising gusto, far removed from the familiar whispering intimacy that most people here will more immediately associate him.
“That was my only UK hit,” he says when he’s finished, the crowd behind him now in a big way, everyone charmed from the off, “and I’ve reduced it to a hog-call.” You can only imagine this is the way things sometimes go. “This is a song I didn’t write,” he then announces, “but it seems appropriate for the evening. I hope you won’t be disappointed.”
He then sits down, tugs briefly at the rim of his baseball cap, starts picking out something on his guitar that’s slow, tender, rueful, whose initially elusive familiarity is explained when it turns out to be a quietly astonishing version of Dylan’s “You’re a Big Girl Now”, from Blood On The Tracks. Kurt perfectly captures the song’s burnished glow – its conversational drift ideally suited to his own inclination towards the murmured aside, the extended emotional drawl, the muttered truth.
It’s a great start and gets better, with a set drawn entirely to selections from the new Lambchop album, OH (Ohio), whose loveliness is in no way diminished in these circumstances, the new songs sounding great in this solo context, beginning with “Slipped, Dissolved And Loosed”, whose melting cadences are sketched here, roughly but affectingly, the audience rapt, Kurt lost in its gentle swirl.
Kurt’s running to a tight schedule on his current promotional tour, with a 6.30 flight to Madrid in the morning to look forward to and to make sure he doesn’t over-run tonight, there’s much hilarity when he enlists some girl from the crowd to join him onstage to keep an eye on the time. “I know it’s kinda weird,” he says. “But it’ll be something to tell the babysitter about when you get home.” The poor girl looks a mite petrified, but gamely takes a seat.
“Are there going to be any other surprises?” she asks Kurt.
“Only when the alarm clock goes off and you drop dead,” he replies. “It scares the shit out of me every time it goes off.”
There follows a delightful “National Talk Like A Pirate Day”, which is one of the songs on the new album that remind me why so long ago I fell so deeply for the wayward unexpected charms of Lambchop’s debut album, “I Hope You’re Sitting Down/Jack’s Tulips”, whose swooning “I Will Drive Slowly” it dreamily recalls. “Sharing A Gibson With Martin Luther King”, which follows a couple of songs later, similarly takes me back to the band’s halcyon early recordings, and I’m subsequently enthralled by “I’m Thinking Of A Number (Between 1 And 2)”, “Please Rise” and the especially wonderful “Popeye”, which again takes me back, this time to something like “Soaky In The Pooper”.
He ends with “an old country song that’s kinda soppy and uncool”, which turns out to be a cover of the Don Williams hit, “I Believe In You”, which closes OH (Ohio) with the same lack of self-conscious irony that he plays it tonight, as a gentle hymn for old values in an unstable world.
It’s a lovely end to another memorable night at Club Uncut. Thanks to James Blackshaw and Cate Le Bon for their opening sets (which John has reviewed on his Wild Mercury Sound blog here at www.uncut.co.uk) and to everyone who came along. It was great meeting some of you – especially the guy who told me a very funny story about Ozzy Osbourne and Mott The Hoople, who he used to hitch around the country to see when he was a besotted teenager. Hope you enjoy American Music Club tonight!
Ladyhawk headline the next Club Uncut on October 1. See you there.