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Ambulance LTD Plays New Then Old at Mercury Lounge

August 19th, 2009

Ambulance LTD – Mercury Lounge – August 18, 2009

(Photo: Jasper Coolidge)

(Photo: Jasper Coolidge)

Ambulance LTD’s lead singer, Marcus Congleton, had a gigantic tiger on the front of his T-shirt (and one on the back). It was, in fact, a tiger shirt. The type that is either grossly ironic or more earnestly worn in shopping malls throughout America’s red states. It’s hard to tell if these animal graphic T-shirts, first popular in the ’80s, are seriously old or very, very new. And for a frontman with uncanny calm, a tiger leaping through the front of his major textile garment is either fun as hell or extremely disjointed.

The band opened with material the sold-out crowd didn’t know. Working on a new record after years of label disputes, Ambulance LTD appeared committed to honing the new songs in a live environment, which is difficult to evaluate, both artistically and performance-wise. Are the new songs less impressive because we didn’t know them? Or was the audience too focused on old material to spot the brilliance of the new offerings? For 10 songs the debate raged and the concertgoers kind of swayed, equal parts happy to be there and confused about where this was going. And then the set shifted.

After a pleasant prog-rock breakdown, the band delved into its first full-length album, LP, playing “Ophelia.” From there on out, with one exception, the band played material from that first album. The crowd responded to the expected, bouncing and nodding along. But what about the tension between old and new? As Congleton noted in the lyrics of one of his first songs, “I’m too young to belong to anyone/ But I’m too old to be taken.” It was achingly serious and pertinent—the divide is challenging. Except for the tiger leaping out of his chest. That needs no reconciliation. —Geoff Nelson