This band's decade-long approximation of the soul-swelling pop of [B]'Pet Sounds'[/B] has, at times, seemed more an academic study in slavish replication than mere admiration...
There’s a fine line between simple fandom and hand-wringing hero-worship. Sean O’Hagan – chief duffer with The High Llamas and rabidly loyal [a]Brian Wilson[/a] disciple – has trodden it more than most. Indeed, his band’s decade-long approximation of the soul-swelling pop of ‘Pet Sounds’ has, at times, seemed more an academic study in slavish replication than mere admiration. And though O’Hagan‘s obsession has yielded the occasional gem (the sumptuous ‘Checking In/Checking Out’, for one) current album ‘Snowbug’ is the final word in po-faced parrotry. A sterile parade of hi-kitsch, lo-maintenance sounds, it’s like listening to the incidental music from some ’60s documentary about Le Corbusier. Only less interesting.
All of which makes tonight’s gig so utterly confounding. Y’see tonight, The High Llamas make like a proper pop group. They even – get this – rock out. Well, almost. It’s easy to mock their semi-baroque Beach Boys pastiches, but here every one is given a breath of fresh life. Even the likes of ‘Harper’s Romo’ and ‘Dalton’s Star’ – on record cloyingly polite rubbish – twinkle with newfound, deliciously transatlantic charm. Perhaps it’s down to the fact that the Llamas don’t seem to care what happens to their meticulously construed creations – allowing ‘The American Scene’ to roam organically through space-rock territory, while O’Hagan nods his unruly mop and gyrates like a drunk librarian.
It may be messy, but it’s this lack of preciousness, this willingness to relax and bend their own strict rules, that sees their once icy songs leap into warm life. The palm trees may be plastic and the Californian sky may be scribbled with crayons but, on tonight’s showing, there’s a pocketful of very real soul behind it all. They should try applying it to their records.