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      Lambchop in San Francisco


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      August 1, 2019

      Thursday   8:00 PM

      628 Divisadero Street
      San Francisco, California 94117

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      Lambchop

      with Madeline Kenney
      The shift is so subtle and unassuming, you may never notice it happens.But 42 minutes into Lambchops fourteenth studio albumthe disarmingbut intimate confessional called This (is what I wanted to tell you)Kurt Wagner steps forward, his voice newly unadorned. With the AutoTune gild of recent Lambchop records momentarily leached away, his voiceis as open and honest as the acoustic guitar and lonesome harmonica thattraipse beneath it. The feelings practically pour between the cracks ofhis stunning baritone, raw for the first time in years. If I gave you ahundred dollars to record just three words/I could make the perfectsong, he sings, the vulnerability of both voice and verse becoming anemotional revelation as he curls aspirationally around that final phrase.The finale of This, Flower is a moment of hope wrought from a staticstate of quiet hell, a little request for a vow of love before we all cry ordrink ourselves to death. This is what he wanted to tell you, plain andsimple and pure.You can understand why Wagner needs a little cover during the firstseven songs of This. (By the way, its the fourteenth Lambchop albumbecause, like all the other tallest buildings in the world, Lambchop skipsNo. 13.) In tone poems that link poignant snapshots of everyday sceneswith koan-like reflections about what it takes and means to stay alive inthese modern times, Wagner limns a world that seems to be falling apart.During scene-framing opener The New Isnt So You Anymore, hesorts through the newspaper only to be disappointed in the news and itsdelivery; days and debates get him in trouble he worries he cannot undo.Wagner reckons with a reality of gentle but relentless senescence andentropy as the drums simmer and pianos refract during The Lasting Lastof You. In a quivering falsetto over muted soul sparkle, he compromiseswith the cold expectations and consistent letdown of our era for TheDecember-ish You.Inside these gorgeous and haunted numbers, the seasons and the lightsand the days change, but the people remain the same. The albums tinymoment of genuine joy (Im in a Mexican restaurant bar/Watchingsurfing/And its amazing, he sings with an audible grin) emerges from aweb of warped synthesizer signals and discordant horns, only to slip rightback in. This (is what I wanted to tell you) fully documents the feeling ofwatching things fall apart, helplessly wondering where it all went wrong.Not so long ago, Lambchop had a famously sprawling line-up, toting adozen or so members around the world and into the studio to documentelliptical country-soul mutations. But in recent years, the band hasbecome a more personal vehicle for Wagner. Anchored by him andframed by bassist Matt Swanson and Wagners incorrigibly grinning foil,the pianist Tony Crow, the Lambchop of this decade has become morepliant and adaptable, opening itself to unexpected collaborators that giveWagners thoughts and feelings the shape they need for each new album.That was the idea for 2012s engrossing Mr. M and 2016s staggering(and tragically timed, we should say here) FLOTUS, and it remains theapproach for This (is what I wanted to tell you).In the summer of 2017, Wagner left Nashville and crossed the Blue RidgeMountains into North Carolina, where he attended the 50th birthdayparty of longtime friend and Merge co-founder Mac McCaughan, whohas released Lambchop records for a quarter-century now. That night,Wagner re-met Macs younger brother, Matt McCaughan, who has spentthe last decade drumming for the likes of Bon Iver and Hiss GoldenMessenger. McCaughan told Wagner he had been adventuring inside theworld of rack-mounted analogue synthesizers and asked if Wagner mightsend some vocals to which he could compose.They became instant musical pen pals, with Wagner sending hima cappella takes of new song ideas and McCaughan dispatching longform synthesizer pieces for inspiration. McCaughan eventually headed toNashville, where, together, they put a band behind the songs, using pedalsteel and piano and the harmonica of Nashville legend Charlie McCoyto color in the spaces of these black-and-white sketches. That unexpectedhuman connectionthat is, rekindling an old friendship to make musicin a way you never imaginedis a happy answer to the worries of This(is what I wanted to tell you), an album whose honesty pulls on your heartwith the weight of absolute empathy. Stunning, beautiful, and surprising,This (is what I wanted to tell you) is a record you just need to hear.

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