The Lemonheads return to Liverpool armed with their classic It’s A Shame About Ray and the characteristic shrug. Getintothis’ Will Fitzpatrick salutes the ultimate slacker, just about still slacking.
Oh Evan Dando, what took you so long?
It’s five years since the last new Lemonheads material (discounting their widely-disliked covers collection Varshons), and with that semi-mythical tenth album stillin the works, it’s kinda nice to see that everyone’s favourite doe-eyed kook (small k) still likes to play out from time to time.
With two records just landed – albeit a ‘best of’ and a demos compilation – it’s safe to assume nostalgia is the prevailing mood. So what better time for them to play their 1993 classic It’s A Shame About Ray in its entirety?
It may be worth mentioning that time is finally beginning to catch up with the post-grunge poster-boy.
A little craggier around that still-boyish face, a little more morose around the eyes, a little more gravel in those honeyed vocal cords… his Smash Hits pin-up days are well and truly behind him.
After opening with a solo strum through Being Around‘s jaunty country, the familiar first notes to Rockin’ Stroll kick in.
That’s cool, the album’s starting – then suddenly Evan falters as he pushes for a high note, and it’s time to worry that the ravages of age have destroyed that beautiful voice. The anthemic Confetti fares a little better, before the album’s title track goes spectacularly awry.
That chorus should drift by like litter on the autumn breeze, making us wanna clink beers and wipe embryonic tears. Instead, he hits a bum note, flinches and coughs, and around the room both spirits and shoulders begin to drop. It’s kinda disappointing. Somehow he sorts himself out for a bracing Rudderless, and warms into the show from there. Crisis averted.
Countless other critics have devoted words to the validity of ‘play the whole album’ shows, so it seems kinda pointless to lend further analysis to the whys and wherefores of these trips down memory lane.
Admittedly it’s kinda fun to know exactly what’s coming next, but …Ray only accounts for the first half of the set.
After that we’re on a one-way road to hitsville, providing a decent reminder of just how many great songs The Lemonheads have given us.
Well, how many songs Evan has given us anyway – the hired hands who represent his current backing band (on loan from American Hi-Fi and The Candles, factspotters) are as solid as you could hope for, but ultimately their relationship with the songs is barely different to yours or mine.
Whatever: the likes of Big Gay Heart, Style and The Great Big No get the assembled true believers fondly reminiscing like talking heads on a winter TV schedule.
So what do these songs mean after eighteen years? A great Lemonheads song is goofy, never overstated and yet totally heartfelt, whether it jangles, clatters or swoons.
The mid-90s Britpop boom saw their collegiate American pop suddenly pegged as dull and irrelevant, but thankfully enough time has passed for us to shakes those (genuinely dull and irrelevant) claims aside.
Stove has the sort of punk rock drive that most of his indie rock contemporaries couldn’t muster, and the sort of keening melody that his punk rock contemparies were just goddamn incapable of.
Confetti, meanwhile, is laconic, arch and sad, whilst scientifically impossible not to hum along with. ‘He kinda shoulda sorta woulda loved her if he could’ve…‘ – that kinda irony-drenched resignation is totally redolent of Generation X, and just as prescient in 2011, given the growing feeling of ‘what the fuck do we do now?’ that pervades amongst this post-millennial recession era. Who knows, maybe a little heart and a healthy sense of irony will help us get through.
They’re not all Dando originals, of course. He’s always had a knack of making other folks’ songs feel like his own (except on the aforementioned Varshons, where it’s generally agreed that he made other people’s songs feel like a sack of crap crapping on a crap mound), and plenty of those are on display tonight.
Frank Mills, filched from hippy musical Hair, becomes a campfire singalong and gets our hero’s first genuine smile of the night, while the plethora of material written by Smudge frontman Tom Morgan (Evan’s Australian foil) reads like a Lemonheads highlights reel: Down About It, The Outdoor Type, Divan… manna from heaven for fans of country-tinged alterna-rock.
Evan just about holds it together for the rest of the night, despite a few creaks and wobbles, but after a bash through Smudge’s ten-second gem Babaganouj, he abruptly announces, ‘My voice is all fucked up,’ and walks off.
And that’s the end: no climax, no triumphant closer, no ‘thanks, see you again‘. A little impersonal, no? But with his visits so sporadic, the windows into his worldview so fleeting and far between, and some of those early stumbles hinting softly that the end might be nigh… well, who would really want him to say goodbye?