“I’ve never seen anything like it,” says the swaying man at the post-show urinal. “It was like Noddy Holder. Fronting Supertramp. With James Taylor on drums.”
As descriptions go, our drunk friend’s isn’t entirely inaccurate, but Long Island’s Lemon Twigs aren’t an easy band to describe. Newly signed to 4AD on the back of last year’s extremely limited edition What We Know cassette, they’re a baroque outfit steeped in the music of The Beatles, the Beach Boys and Todd Rundgren, which sounds straightforward enough, though their look most definitely isn’t.
The band’s 19-year-old frontman/drummer Brian D’Addario wears a Magical Mystery Tour T-shirt and has the kind of hair that makes it all but impossible to see. Meanwhile, fellow frontman/drummer and younger brother Michael – just 17 – sports lipstick and guyliner, and is dressed as if for a Bay City Rollers fan convention, with a kipper tie and a jacket that would look at home in a West Midlands curry house circa 1973.
Ably assisted by irredeemably cool bassist Megan Zeankowski and keyboardist Danny Ayala (patterned silk shirt and tassled trousers), the band’s debut UK show is a sell-out and a huge success. With the kind of confidence that comes from a decade of Broadway, TV and film experience (the brothers both have extensive IMDb profiles), it might be tempting to dismiss the Lemon Twigs as precocious stage school brats were they not so clearly, formidably talented.
The set is divided into two halves. The first sees Brian out front and Michael on drums, before the two switch places halfway through (both get a drum solo). But the end result is the same, whoever’s at the mic. It’s Wings and it’s The Left Banke and it’s ELO and it’s Ben Folds and it’s pretty much sublime, albeit occasionally rough around the edges.
Why Didn’t You Say That bounces along like Andrew Gold at his cheeriest, These Words could be a lost Ray Davies classic, and As Long As We’re Together moves from melancholy verse to crunching, exultant chorus as Michael windmills and drop-kicks the air like Pete Townshend in his prime. Throughout, they keep things interesting with clever melodic shifts from major key to minor and back again, there are changes in rhythm and tempo, and the harmonies are pure and precise.
This is proper grown-up music, lovingly crafted and steeped in rock’s history, and it’s performed by a group who are barely more than kids. Hipster prog? Baroque glam? Whatever label you choose, The Lemon Twigs are a remarkable band.