Lamb at The Academy on 30 September 2017
Lamb’s first album came out twenty-one years ago, in a pre-Napster, pre-streaming age. People bought it on CD. The young woman on the ticket desk wonders if, judging by the way the large queue of people were dressed, Lamb are a heavy metal outfit.
Tonight at The Academy, Andy Barlow and Lou Rhodes and their bandmates give the first performance on this anniversary tour that will bring them through the UK and Europe this month and, in November, will see them do some dates in Russia. “You are the first audience so, you know, go with us on this…” They give us the album from beginning to end, in the order they must have carefully deliberated over. The first thirty seconds of opener Lusty offer a microcosmic view of Barlow and Rhodes’s artistry. The strong gesture of the shimmering, metallic chords; the effortless groove in an odd time signature; Rhodes’s voice, suddenly, starkly revealed… “so alone…”
In interviews around the second album, ‘Fear Of Fours’, Rhodes was already speaking about how her voice had altered with pregnancy and the intense touring they did after the release of the debut. Her voice is in fine form, a remarkable instrument, always in tune as she navigates the sometimes quite angular lines. She pushes and bends pitches on trip-hop epic Trans Fatty Acid which Barlow catches and volleys through an array of effects. This interplay between them – the quality of her live delivery and his virtuosic manipulation of the musical phrases – is what makes for such an entrancing experience.
It’s the first gig, they had a four hour delay on their flight over, there are a couple of small technical things and interruptions in the flow, but it’s all entirely irrelevant when they treat us to this wonderful album. We even get to hear the songs that have never been performed live before. After the intense journey through Trans Fatty Acid (delicate string harmonics playing from violist Quinta and double bassist Jon Thorne at the beginning give way to frenetic, bow-hair-fraying stuff by the end), comes Zero. Rhodes introduces it, “I know it’s a Saturday night…I hope you’ll hold us gently as we play it for you.”
From this beautiful, central still point we take another tangent. Rhodes welcomes trumpeter Kevin Davy to the stage for the focused burn of instrumental track Merge. Davy’s bluesy, muted phrases and ecstatic trills slice through the tense drum and bass backing. Barlow directs the band, gesticulating another trumpet trill, catching and playing with the phrases as he did with the vocals. He’s such a dynamic, energetic presence on stage, beaming with happiness, yelling out to the crowd, air drumming… it’s impossible not to get caught up.
Gold, with its seductive six-eight swagger and euphoric, scat outro, gives opportunities for bass, trumpet, and drum solos. The lights cast a glitter ball effect over the crowd, and are excellent throughout the night. LED columns dotted around the stage are topped with lightbulbs and are used to great effect, along with some lovely washes and focused beams.
After a potted history of the band by Barlow, the anniversary play-through complete, an elegant change of dress (and impressive fascinator) by Rhodes, we crack into the second set. The pressure is off now, somewhat, and Rhodes and Barlow seem more relaxed, singing to each other happily during the storming warning wake up song, Little Things. New single Illumina has an interesting dynamic scheme – a powerful, constant bass in the verses is pulled out from under the chorus, to great effect.
“She’s class,” sighs one satisfied fan as Rhodes, Barlow and co. leave the stage.
Trans Fatty Acid
We Fall In Love
As Satellites Go By