London SE1 Queen Elizabeth Hall

They're as extraordinary and as near to perfect as you could possibly dream.

Context can fool you. Yeah, [a]Lambchop[/a] chief Kurt Wagner might hail from Nashville, and tonight’s splendid support acts, [a]Freakwater[/a] and Calexico, might well spark fresh fires from dustbowl embers while sporting cowboy hats. But, most emphatically, [a]Lambchop[/a] are NOT country. Wagner sups freely of a musical classicism, for sure, but it’s located a little way from the Old West – Memphis, and the sultry southern drawl of soul as purveyed by Al Green, to be specific.

This revelation comes not as the amassed [a]Lambchop[/a] massive (20 bodies, to be exact, taking in string section, horns, guitars – steel, bass, and electric – and Wagner‘s dry rasp) out-groove Curtis Mayfield on his own ‘Give Me Your Love’, nor when Wagner tears into a Teddy Pendergrass classic by way of an encore. It’s obvious throughout, in the lush sighs of sound [a]Lambchop[/a] glide across, in Wagner‘s exquisite deployment of heart-breaking chords, in his simultaneously understated and emotion-haemorrhaging wheeze.

It’s most definitely felt in the hand-clap shuffle-funk of new single ‘Up With People’, tonight geared up into a celebratory stomp, whose perversely glad refrain of [I]”We are screwing up our lives today!”[/I] is greeted with a two-minute standing ovation. The applause grows with each song, Wagner fending off yelled affirmations like “You’re a genius!” and “Give up the day job!” with a bumbling, “Aw shucks” sincerity.

But if tonight serves as some dream celebration of [a]Lambchop[/a]’s songs rendered so perfectly, then it also showcases the other, less obvious side of [a]Lambchop[/a]. They open with the traditional murder balladry of ‘The Butcher Boy’ and its stark bleakness sees Wagner exploring all the anguish his splintered vocal can capture.

Memphis, via Nashville. Al Green backed by slide guitars. Extremes and contrariness, like life itself, are the meat of [a]Lambchop[/a]’s trade. They’re as extraordinary and as near to perfect as you could possibly dream.