Ambulance LTD Returns, Again
Published August 20, 2009
Photo by Bao Nguyen
There’s an old philosophical dilemma called Theseus’s paradox, which asks whether a ship is still the same ship if all its hardware is replaced piece by piece. The same could be asked of Ambulance LTD–in the near-decade since the band formed, all but one of its original members have departed to pursue other projects. (One of those projects, The Red Romance, actually boasts two Ambulance alums, so you could make the case that it’s more like the old Ambulance than the current Ambulance is).
So it’s mostly to the credit of frontman Marcus Congleton, the sole hanger-on, that the band performs so well these days–a lesser musician might get caught up in identity crisis and let it ruin his poise, but Congleton leads his newish fellow members confidently. During Tuesday night’s show at the Mercury Lounge–sold out and stuffed to the gills with longtime fans–Congleton and co. handled the old material and the new (some of which was written with the Velvet Underground’s John Cale) with equal aplomb.
Unfortunately, Congleton isn’t much for between-songs banter, meaning he didn’t identify the names of new songs Ambulance played. The standout, it turns out, is called “Ivy.” Its psychedelic and disco inflections guarantee that, when a long-promised sophomore album is finally released, it will likely draw more comparisons to Of Montreal than the Smiths, as earlier work did. Even the slow stuff feels more optimistic: “Upsetter,” probably the slowest of the new material, is a laid-back jam that opens with a lyric about a tangerine and ends with an extended guitar riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Wilco record.
As the show went on, the band reverted to older material, and not surprisingly, the audience was vocally appreciative: “Country Gentleman” and “Ophelia” met with grateful cheers, as did “Stay Where You Are,” which seems to have been treated to a new, faster arrangement that suits it perfectly. They closed with “Young Urban,” using the end of the show as an opportunity to thrash a bit and turn up the reverb–proving, for those who were wondering, that Ambulance LTD hasn’t changed so much after all.