The Lemon Twigs // Leeds University Stylus // 25.2.19

The Lemon Twigs // Leeds University Stylus // 25.2.19

“Come on you bunch of maniacs!” screams the frontman of the frightfully exciting young band The Lemon Twigs. And so it begins – a wild and wonderful set from a great band from New York started by two brothers, Michael and Brian D’Addario. I was lucky enough to catch them last summer at La Route Du Rock and was keen to see how they would fare in a more intimate setting. They did not disappoint, playing some of their most popular songs like ‘I Wanna Prove to You’ and ‘These Words’, along with new material from their 2018 album Go to School.

The Lemon Twigs have been compared to The Beatles and The Beach Boys, some of the 20th century’s most popular and influential groups. But the band clearly have much wider reaching and more varied influences. They have crafted a particular brand of music which I think works through contrast and counterpoint. Michael and Brian have starkly contrasting voices, with the former being quite rough and unpredictable in a punk-y sort of way, and the latter possessing a clarity and consistency reminiscent of James Taylor. 

This fusion is symptomatic of a broader hybridity in their music. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what genre their music is – it’s pop one minute and prog rock the next, blending Queen and King Crimson. Soft vocal harmonies are offset by classic rock guitar solos with plenty of wah; drumming shifts seamlessly from swing to rock and back again. It’s guitar music at its most imaginative. 

On top of that, Michael’s stage presence is immense, often dispensing of the microphone giving him the freedom to dance sensually around the mic stand or do a high-kick when the chorus drops, oozing sex appeal. Heavy on the tight jeans, low-cut tops and makeup, his androgynous look is refreshing and alluring. Brian is more reserved on stage, but equally captivating. You know a band is cool when more than one of its members is wearing a beret.

The D’Addario brothers are joined live by jazz bassist Daryl Johns, who deserves special mention for his mastery of the fretless bass, a notoriously difficult beast to tame. A short instrumental interlude of just drums and bass midway through the set laid bare the talent of this man in a Weather Report-esque virtuosic masterclass. Again, Johns’ bass playing introduces new elements – hints of jazz and motown – into the melting pot that is The Lemon Twigs’ musical genre.

For the final song of their set, Michael, produces a pink plastic shopping bag and puts it over his head in a somewhat distressing stunt. He’s gasping for breath but singing through the bag regardless. I was concerned at one point the evening was about to take a dark turn, but he was fine and the brothers came out for a semi-acoustic encore as if nothing had happened.            

The Lemon Twigs’ NPR Tiny Desk Concert is a great introduction to their music, albeit perhaps somewhat more restrained than you’re likely to experience live…

George Cooper