A case of famous father syndrome

The Webb Brothers | Camden Monarch, London
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The Independent Culture

Since last they toured here, The Webbs have sprouted another brother. Tonight, they were joined by young James on keyboards. Like his elder siblings Justin and Christiaan, he's the son of Jimmy Webb, lauded composer of classics such as "Galveston" and "Wichita Lineman". Live or in interviews, you won't hear the brothers boast of their lineage, however. As their pre-gig mingle with the punters demonstrated, they would rather keep famous dad syndrome in check.

Since last they toured here, The Webbs have sprouted another brother. Tonight, they were joined by young James on keyboards. Like his elder siblings Justin and Christiaan, he's the son of Jimmy Webb, lauded composer of classics such as "Galveston" and "Wichita Lineman". Live or in interviews, you won't hear the brothers boast of their lineage, however. As their pre-gig mingle with the punters demonstrated, they would rather keep famous dad syndrome in check.

Genetically, though, there was no escaping the fact that pa was up there on stage with them. All three brothers have Jimmy's wild, staring eyes and outsized gnashers. Their freedom of hair and sibling-camaraderie, meanwhile, recalled the Partridge Family or the Osmonds. Now and then, just for the hell of it, James would holler excitedly, and Christiaan would turn around to grin his approval. Digital was a dirty word, stoner rock ruled, and they were "very pleased to be here".

Ostensibly an advanced demo, the band's début album Beyond the Biosphere was a fine, sci-fi-obsessed curio recorded for less than $5,000. Their new record, Maroon, is billed as their début offering proper. Pleasingly, producer Stephen Street (The Smiths, Blur) has preserved the band's idiosyncrasies. Their search for that long-lost, melody-refreshing chord continues, and any possible musical influences post-1977 are still studiously ignored.

One of tonight's new album highlights was "The Liar's Club", a harmonically complex song which tells of excessive, ultimately vapid nights at a bar the Webb's frequent in their hometown of Chicago. "When the lights are low I look as if I'm 21," sang Justin. As a thirty-something journo surrounded by Camden's indie-tots, your correspondent suddenly felt exposed. I needn't have worried, of course, because the audience were still in thrall to The Webb's toothy other-ness. The girls seemed particularly taken by young James. He's obviously the David Cassidy of the set-up.

"Cold Fingers", one of Biosphere's pop-punk singles, still hit the spot. There's something in Justin's vein-popping vocal delivery which evokes a similar spirit to Eddie & the Hot Rods' "Do Anything You Want to Do". I suspect it's a youth thing. Further in, current single "Summer People" was almost as good, it's sun-kissed melody evoking Brian Wilson, and Christiaan proving that he could handle a lead vocal just as well as his elder brother.

The Webbs are maturing, and their determination to plough their own furrow is endearing. Their modus operandi, like their sound, recalls an era when pop music wasn't stymied by the exact science of niche marketing. Live, they are highly enjoyable, their enthusiasm easily compensating for the rare moments when the arrangements get too abstruse. Do ask them about sci-fi B-movies. Don't ask them about their dad.

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