Arts: Pop: When Dad encourages sibling revelry

THE WEBB BROTHERS KINGS CROSS WATER RATS LONDON

JUSTIN'S ON guitar, Christian's on keyboards, and, as their bijou concept album Beyond The Biosphere confirms, these twentysomething Californians are adept at giving psychedelia-tinged pop a fresh twist. Their surname aside, they've played down the fact that their dad is the songwriting legend Jimmy Webb, but I felt sure that there were those in the audience who would recognise "Up, Up and Away" as something other than Superman's catch phrase.

Initially, Webb senior's influence on Beyond The Biosphere isn't overly apparent. As you listen more closely, though, the modulations in the chord sequences and the suspensions in the vocal harmonies illustrate that, like Dad, Justin and Christian know their music theory. The overall mood is playful rather than schooled, however. B-movie sound-track references, such as the spooky, extraterrestrial-luring theremin that haunts "Sour Grapes", vie with quirky acoustic ballads and straightforward power pop. Think Badfinger meets The X-Files.

Live, it all came together surprisingly well. Dressed in matching jerkins that might have been supplied by the wardrobe assistant on Space 1999, the brothers eased into a set that followed the track-listing of their album for the first four songs. There was something pleasingly geeky about their appearance, and their bass player looked as if he'd escaped from an episode of the Seventies children's series The Double Deckers.

The indie cognoscenti certainly seemed to warm to "Cold Fingers", one minute, 51 seconds of full-throttle tune-smithery. Christian's wild eyes and Osmond-like teeth were flashing as he thrashed around unreservedly, while Justin - younger, shyer - chopped at his guitar while staring at the floor.

Though their talent is obvious, there's still work to be done, however. When singing at the top end of their range on "She Drifts Into My Room", for example, their voices sounded a little strained.

The songs are full of invention, though, with the arrangements often making unlikely detours, and their lyrics are as carefully thought-out as their melodies.

They closed with "I'm Over And I Know It", a slightly maudlin-sounding stompbuoyed by fizzing analogue synthesisers and a vocoder.

One more thing: fans of their dad should note that, no matter how loud you shout, they won't play "Wichita Lineman". Next time I'll ask for "Galveston".

James McNair

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