When The Spin arrived at 9 on the dime to see Lambchop perform at Cheekwood’s inaugural Cheekwood Nights show, a ritual inspection of our sonic sanctuary revealed some quality amenities: welcoming bathrooms and expertly set-up bars. Dignified urinations and prompt libations often elude The Spin, so with a capital A-OK, we traversed the sizable lawn to realize we should’ve brought a blanket. D'oh. Luckily, our Lambchop lounge suffered very little atop Cheekwood’s quality sod, part of a larger lawn — roomy enough to stretch out and chitchat thanks to The Great Outdoors. Yes, the cicadas were abuzz, but — no shit — a brook’s babble drowned their drone, and the atmospheric din of nature rather suited the affair. Cheekwood Nights is like if Bonnaroo got into Harvard.
Lambchop — endearingly but inaccurately introduced by Cheekwood president and CEO Jane Offenbach as "The Lambchops" — already immortalized their song “Give It” as the grand finale for Merge’s 20th anniversary a couple years back. But they opened with it Friday night, thus pumping up a spoiled Spin who had been content listening to “Doctor My Eyes” on the garden’s loudspeakers. But debut songs dominated the night, such as “Kinda,” with flourishes of spritely sci-fi keyboards, and “Gone Tomorrow,” a soulful rock ditty that was steadily rollin’ on the river till porting Proud Mary for fireworks with a blistering psychedelic outro.
More unreleased material, The Spin dug “Nice Without Mercy,” a post-rock lullaby, and relished “The Good Life Is Wasted on Me” when Lambchop finally hopped on their horses, firing off some serious Seger bullets and not at all because we were play-firing ‘em right back. Next came “Sharing a Gibson With Martin Luther King Jr.,” a choo-choo of a song that rolls on the drums, toots friendly keys, and sparkles with guitar licks: a sublime product of soulful mechanics. True, this analogy might have something to do with the gigantic outdoor toy-train exhibit at Cheekwood right now, but we feel like it works.
Bugs of various scientific names misted the light show of electric blues, greens and magenta continuously, and so before launching into “If Not I’ll Die,” Wagner quipped “the beetles love me,” his facetious braggadocio making for a funny pun. (Not to mention — The Spin thinks — a credible hypothetical if George and John were still with us.) After the trumpet-accompanied tune “Mr. Met,” Wagner cracked, “How we doin’ on that Belle Meade egg timer?”, teasing the tranquil crowd that we might actually be terrorizing the manor. The 'Chop then launched into another of their finest flock, “National Talk Like a Pirate Day” a solid piano-rock jam that might have moved The Spin to dance in less exalted environs (in hindsight, perhaps that’s a terrible excuse).
Egg-timer running low, Wagner & Co. debuted “Buttons,” a slower number of Motown motivation. The Spin seems to remember Wagner saying that the song laments a girl from his past who dated his buddy — ”a real prick." “Of course,” he said, “I couldn’t help her because so was I at the time." Feeling decidedly not prickly thanks to Lambchop, the Spin abandoned the Gatsby-esque environment with its “consoling proximity of millionaires” by 11 p.m. Now that’s what The Spin calls a first-class Friday (in the traditional sense).