I wanted to love the Lemon Twigs, I really did. I mean, I went out to see the vintage-rock revival band on a Tuesday night; I left the house around the time I’m usually nodding out on the couch. I showed up early enough to catch the tail end of the (rather impressive, loud, and more rocking than her recent EP would suggest) opening set by Tacoma musician Jackie Cohen and her band.
I was fully enchanted at the beginning, but I was fatigued by the time the show concluded. And it wasn’t the sort of fatigue you get from dancing your ass off and having a grand ol’ time. It was more like I’d arrived with big expectations and was feeling the weight of them not being met, though it was no one’s fault but my own.
I’m not familiar enough with the Lemon Twigs' entire catalog to recite the set list, but I can tell you what they didn’t play, “Rock Dreams,” a song I very much wanted to hear. Which, of course, is always a big mistake, coming to a show and hoping to hear one particular song, because you’re bound to be disappointed. You’d think I’d know this, being a veteran concertgoer and longtime music writer. And it’s not like I have a problem hearing music I don’t know. I should have just left my expectations at the door.
The Lemon Twigs' brothers, Michael and Brian D’Addario, both proved prodigious in a live setting—they played as remarkably as they do on their albums. They still sounded like they were beamed in from an ambiguous vintage era, their sound an amalgam of 1970s-style glam and soft rock, prog, and power-pop à la Todd Rundgren, Supertramp, ELO, Everybody’s in Show-Biz-era Kinks, Big Star, and Wings, with some late ’60s psych pop (Beatles, Beach Boys) sonic cues. Their influences are quite clear, thanks very much, and there are plenty of moments that sound a bit lifted (I’ve mentioned “Rock Dreams” and the Beatles’ “Flying” similarities, but there’s also the Seals and Crofts “Summer Breeze” moments of “Small Victories”). I’m not disparaging them—these similarities are what got me jiving on Lemon Twigs in the first place.
Michael is the showboater, the chatty Cathy, the dramatic belter, the brother with the obvious theater background, a young Mick-Jagger-in-training. He only had about six signature dance moves, but he executed them with earnest conviction, flamboyant and overexaggerated, from shimmies to hair flips to high kicks to hand gestures and flaps—and I loved it. You could tell he was on the verge of expanding his repertoire. Or maybe that was just my assumption after he pulled a plastic bag over his head to sing part of the chorus during, I believe, “The Fire.” (I thought it was going to be some sort of asphyxiation trick, like maybe he’d do it for long enough to pass out onstage, and then come magically back to life. But no, it was only about a 30-seconds-or-less stage antic without a real conclusion. Work on that one, Michael. You’re better than this, I know you are.)
Brian was more straightforward in his singing, pleasantly tuneful and earnest. He had a quiet but wry stage presence and an arsenal of one-liners, and he was more inclined to show off his musical chops than his younger bro. He also had the trademark O-face, without the O—just that caught-up-in-a-guitar-solo face. During the band introductions, he kept adding his own little guitar flair after each of the band members was introduced, which was actually fucking hilarious, but also, as Michael pointed out, “undermines everything I’m doing here.” It was hard to tell if he was really mad or if this was part of the Lemon Twigs schtick.
They did an encore, and it was just fine. They picked the sluggish if lovely “If You Give Enough,” just the two brothers on guitar joined by the band’s keys player. It does have a very memorable verse: “You really think that can save you / That which was made to enslave you / Your life's only good as love / If you give enough.” I decided I was going to hang on to that moment, that verse, and pretend I loved the show, or at least that I liked it more than my grumpy post-show inner monologue indicated.
Because if I’m being honest, my biggest complaint is that they are young and unformed by their own personal musical style, still heavily shaped by the music and artists that influenced them. Which is why I like them, but conversely why I didn't like them live. And so I couldn’t blame them for not really knowing how to read the room or how to put together a set list, like maybe abandoning that slow, pretty deep cut off an EP few people in the room have probably heard in favor of something with a bit more pep.
They have much to learn, but, at ages 20 and 22, they’ve got plenty of time. I’m confident they’ll work it out.
* On a side note, the show at the Neptune Theatre was not, in fact, sold out, an impossibility since the Neptune is bigger than Columbia City Theater—by a lot. Which I didn’t know at the time, but in my defense, the show was listed on the Neptune site as sold out before it moved. In sum, it was moved to a smaller venue so there weren’t 300 people milling around in a 1,000-seat venue. Those same number of people filled up Columbia City Theater, probably a purposeful move on the part of the label and promoters.