Monday, 12 October 2015

The Lemonheads, Manchester Ritz, October 7th 2015 (LIVE REVIEW)

Audiences for TheLemonheads are always are strange combination; serious looking men in their forties with stone faces, predatory women not yet over their teenage Dando lust, and beered up blokes bouncing along nostalgically to the hits. Something felt different this time though; a slightly younger demographic, less intense faces; maybe this 90s revival means being a Lemonheads fan is suddenly a little less unfashionable.

Not that Evan Dando has ever given the impression of caring about such things, and as he ambles on stage with this the latest incarnation of the band he formed almost 30 years ago, he looks happier, healthier and more relaxed than in a long time. Opening with the beautifully plodding Hospital, it's immediately apparent that the years have done nothing to dampen his effortlessly honeyed tones. To mention his previous issues with drug use seems too easy to the point of cliché, but it deserves mention that, except for, you know, that one time in 1993, he seems to have kept his voice. Three songs in and Smudge cover Tenderfoot ignites the midweek crowd; sounding more like a band than the Evan Dando show than they have in a long time. Jen Turner (formerly of Here We Go Magic) on bass is infinitely watchable, her playful enthusiasm and ease with her instrument infectious. It's such an unexpected turn of events to see a group of people having such a good time playing together that it's almost slightly disappointing when they leave Evan to entertain the masses with a few solo numbers. Almost.

Ode to insecure love Being Around more than satisfies the audience, followed by a delicately delivered Willy Mason cover that again drives home the strength of his vocals and versatility on the guitar. Frank Mills, the Hair track from It's A Shame About Ray, is delivered as a singalong, with Evan stepping back from the mic to let the crowd take over and have a wallow in their collective past. And it was lovely, in its own way, but you get the impression that he's doing it because he knows his audience, not because he derives much enjoyment from it.

Rejoined by the band, the rest of the set is taken mainly from the three most successful Lemonheads albums, peppered with the a few solo numbers. Why Do You Do This To Yourself is particularly startling with the clarity of sober hindsight, and Evan seems more present than in a long time. Predictably, songs from ...Ray get the best reception, with smiling faces and word perfect lyrics all round. Which is wherein lies the rub. The community feeling of standing in a darkened room singing to your favourite bands with hundreds of likeminded strangers you're suddenly connected to is life affirming, and surely the reason, apart from seeing your heroes, that we do it. It's heartwarming to see Evan treating the better known chapters of his back catalogue with the reverence it deserves rather than the by numbers performances of the recent past. The flipside is the frustration when songs as beautiful as Frying Pan, in a performance that equalled if not bettered the perfect fragility of the Brattle Theatre version, or the exquisite Stove are used as an opportunity to get another pint, by the same folk getting giddy to Rudderless or painting their Juliana Hatfield fantasies on to Ms Turner during My Drug Buddy. It would be wonderful if those facilitating The Lemonheads impressive longevity would join him in appreciating the full breadth and depth of his discography, and not just the hits that remind them of their first blasts of youth.

Listening to The Lemonheads has been putting a smile on my face for over twenty years, and I won't deny I grinned like a fool for most of the show. The gig was bursting with joy, both in the crowd, and up on stage. But more than anything, this performance bodes well for next year's Sandwich Police shows, his new band with Willy Mason and Marciana Jones. There's something in Evan Dando's poetic depictions of the intricacies of everyday life that tugs at the heart strings; his way with a melody; the subtle Americana, that has an enduring appeal. Released from the shackles of his history, it'll be interesting to see where this road winds up.

Lemonheads official