On his recent solo tours, Kurt Wagner, the front man for Nashville-based alt-country band Lambchop, has been stringing a clothesline across the stage. After performing a song, he attaches the lyrics sheet with a clothespin and sends it along to make room for the next. “I had the idea to illustrate in some physical way the notion that I’m focusing on ‘songs’ in these solo performances,” Wagner told Feedback when we caught up with him via e-mail. “I have a crap memory so I use the pages as a safety net in case I blank out during a performance. It’s like a kid who still drags around a safety blanket.”
A trucker hat, a clothesline and six strings: Nashville songwriter Kurt Wagner will open for friends Yo La Tengo at Satellite Ballroom on January 9.
What we’re listening to
“Song for Bobby,” by Cat Power (from Jukebox)—Having covered “Stuck Inside Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” for the I’m Not There soundtrack, Cat Power’s Chan Marshall still has Dylan pulsing in her veins on this new original tune.
“Forbidden Love,” by Madonna (from Confessions on a Dance Floor)—Perfect bass-synth groove for the queen’s disco comeback disc with lyrics that stress romance and love over sex and fever, reflecting an older, wiser but no less dance-loving Mistress of Pop.
“No Wow,” by The Kills (from No Wow)
“Apocalyptic Love Song #2,” by Jim Waive and the Young Divorcees (from self-titled album)
“Maggot Brain,” by Funkadelic (from Maggot Brain)
Why would a seasoned song man (Wagner has been making music with Lambchop since 1986) need such insurance? Maybe it’s because he’s used to having a lot of company onstage. The members of Lambchop are usually plentiful (Merge Records’ website says they can number anywhere from five to 17, and a publicity photo shows them filling up a trolley car), so having the spotlight all to himself is a different experience for Wagner.
“It’s difficult to compare those two things,” he says of Lambchop performances and his solo shows. “That’s like trying to compare playing with the Knicks to giving motivational talks as a Knicks team member to small groups of [inner city] youngsters regarding the finer points of the game.”
Though he may be ducking behind his hanging sheets of paper when he plays, Wagner doesn’t seem shy. On his recent European trek he encouraged a dialogue with the audience, and sometimes the discussions became so involved that he began using an egg timer to keep things on schedule. “It was always fun to find out when the bell would go off,” he says. “Most of the time it was like magic, on cue right at the end of a song or near it.”
Though his fellow Lambchoppers will be absent, Wagner won’t be without friends when he plays Satellite Ballroom on Wednesday, January 9. He’ll open for Yo La Tengo, whose members he has known for quite some time. “I consider [them] to be some of my closest friends,” Wagner says. “I must admit that a casual conversation with Ira [Kaplan] helped lead to a decision to make music with Lambchop a more full-time affair. His confidence in our abilities far outweighed my reservations of music being for the birds.”
Though we’re thrilled to see Yo La Tengo play its intimate, mostly acoustic “Freewheelin’” show, we’re just as excited to catch Wagner. On his recent European tour, he covered “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” our favorite Leonard Cohen song, and we look forward to that and any other surprises that the Tennessee songwriter might have up his flannel sleeve.
Kurt Wagner performing Leonard Cohen’s "Chelsea Hotel No. 2" on a recent European tour.
New year news
2008 is rolling along, and local pop-rockers Sparky’s Flaw got a good start when their song “The New Year” was used as the theme song during ESPN’s broadcast of the Rose Bowl on January 1. “We were hoping we’d get to do those things they do for the player introduction, where Johnny would be tossing the ball and pointing at the camera,” the band says on their MySpace blog. “But alas. That is not happening.”
The Charlottesville Music Showcase will be moving its operation from Orbit Billiards to Rapture this month. JJ Cohoon, who does video and lights for the Showcase, told us that they hope to take advantage of Rapture and R2’s space and Downtown location. The Showcase will make its Rapture debut on Wednesday, January 16 with local funk rockers X Porn Stars and other special guests.
And one more thing that the year should soon offer: the rebirth of Monkeyclaus.org. The Nellysford-based recording studio will soon be adding a digital music download store to their diverse musical operation. Monkey conspirator Matthew Clark (whom you may know from Ostinato, Galatic Core or one of his other musical projects) gave us a sneak peek of the new store, and it’s great. In addition to featuring tons of great music (including a lot of local goodness), the new site will also include interactive community features, exclusive content from Monkeyclaus recording sessions and more. And if that’s not enough, 10 cents from each download will go to environmental charities. Though the site doesn’t have a launch date yet, Clark tells us things are nearly completed, so stay tuned.
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