Justin Vernon's Bon Iver and Jonathan Meiburg's Shearwater are two US bands spearheading what could seen as an informal Talk Talk revival this year, with Elbow, a band openly indebted to Mark Hollis's pop pioneers, doing their bit in the UK. Both acts have encored with Talk Talk songs in Shepherd's Bush of late, as though communing with the long-retired ambient-rock maverick, who retired to Wimbledon in the early Nineties after reaching the peak of his powers with the end-piece albums Spirit of Eden, Laughing Stock, and the solo Mark Hollis. Where Vernon sought to capture the parched emotional and spiritual acoustic intimacy of Mark Hollis with his justly acclaimed For Emma, Forever Ago, Meiburg's Texas outfit, Shearwater, have taken inspiration from the post-rock blueprints and occluded garage gospel of Talk Talk's final masterworks.
Both men bring plenty more to the party than Talk Talk-lite, in Meiburg's case a theatrical flamboyance and sprawling richness that recalls Desire-era Dylan, the proto-Arcade Fire psych-folk of The Waterboys and the dynamics of Astral Weeks. A wretched old ham, Meiburg cuts a fruity dash vocally and sartorially that puts one in mind of Robert Stephens in Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Hollis would surely be appalled by the foppish locks, the gamey curl of the lip and the ripely overwrought lyrics about ecological disaster. More Mika Hollis than Mark Hollis.
He'd surely be repelled, too, by the band's drummer, Thor Harris, a dead ringer for the American Gladiator Deron McBee, who played the wrestler Larry David has a run-in with in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Tricked out in orange sweat pants, a polka-dot vest, a white angora jerkin and with an inexcusable mullet, he looks more like a Slovakian session bassist for Scorpions than the sticks man for a Mojo-feted "pastoral prog-rock" band.
Invigorated by a recent stint supporting Coldplay across the enormodomes of the West Coast, the five-piece share with, say, Sufjan Stevens, a sense of on-stage play that makes up for their geeky awkwardness on stage. Bows are scraped on a cymbal and xylophone, and banjo, mariachi trumpet, clarinet, vibraphone, double bass and even some kind of home-made psaltery are thrown into the mix. Songs from the band's fifth album, Rook, and the earlier Palo Santo are dilated into baroque tapestries with dissonant, serrated riffs and quivering feedback.
Following the huge success of Arcade Fire's situationist antics, every alt US act worth its salt is now legally obliged to "play the room" unamplified at some point, and so after an over-egged and pretty pointless cover of Spirit of Eden's "The Rainbow", the band spirited themselves to a piano in the corner of the ballroom for a final unplugged sign-off. What Hollis would have made of it all is anyone's guess, but it was a fitting close for a band who treat his perfectionist legacy with a refreshing dollop of panto.