The High Llamas/Simian, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London<br></br>Kittie, Fleece & Firkin, Bristol

No drama from the thoughtful Llamas
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The Independent Culture

Sean O'Hagan, formerly half of Microdisney, shuffles meekly onstage in Hush Puppies, comfy cords and open-necked shirt. He looks like a redbrick English lecturer played by Jimmy Mulville. This makes sense: his full time band, The High Llamas, make hushed, comfy, open-necked music, with a hint of the scholarly about it.

Before a note has been played, a stern "ssshhh" silences the hall. "We'll have no shushing," O'Hagan counters.

The High Llamas may not be noisy, but they're undeniably feelgood. For the best part of a decade O'Hagan has been making music reminiscent of Steely Dan, 10cc and the cheesecloth summer of 1975.

Tonight, though, with a line-up which includes a string quartet, glockenspiel, a Vox Continental and a guitar that's at least a twelve string, O'Hagan concentrates on the symphonic end of the High Llamas backcat: the stuff that longs to be Bacharach or Barry.

These are the sounds that O'Hagan – clearly more a fan than a muso – loves, but his voice can't always navigate the peaks and valleys he builds for it, and the experience works best when he's silent. Which, for long periods, he is: the set hinges around an experimental 15-minute sound sculpture, built by passers-by in the QEH lobby, who press parts of a cubist collage of nearby Waterloo Station, each of which which relates to a bar of music. What was it 10cc said about art for art's sake?

A dog with a sheep's head. A faun with batwings. A bull with the body of an ostrich. If you've seen any such Fortean fauna on a flyposter lately, it probably wasn't advertising a Victorian curiosity museum, but a record by Simian.

Simian can't be accused of doing things conventionally. A recent gig, held in an East End church, erupted into what many now call The Shoreditch Riot.

When I finally get to see them, their tendency towards organised whining with random bleeps frustrates as much as their 60s-style mix of British folk and psychedelia charms.

We've come a long way since "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls" – damn shame, in many ways – and the idea of an all-girl rock band is no longer the patronising freakshow it was in the days of Girlschool. Kittie's Morgan Lander, however, is a genetic freak to rival anything on a Simian sleeve.

Kittie are an all-female Canadian trio, augmented onstage by a bald Hell's Angel with an Abe Lincoln beard (either that, or this chick really needs to wax), who play thunderously heavy modern, not "nu", metal. But it's Morgan who holds your attention. One minute she'll be singing sweetly, then suddenly she'll emit a bellow that would put Glenn Danzig to shame. In the Gents, three men shout "Wuuurrrgh!!!" in imitation of the singer, but fail miserably to achieve the correct subsonic rumble. Finally, one of them concedes: "Forget it, lads. She's more a man than we'll ever be."

s.price@independent.co.uk

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