Tonight I’m heading out to Leeds to see The Lemonheads on their 30th anniversary It’s A Shame About Ray tour. They are playing at Leeds University’s Stylus venue. The gig has been sold out for weeks so I’m expecting a packed house full of middle-aged people (like myself) hoping for a sweet, nostalgia trip.
This worries me a little for a few reasons. I loved Lemonheads for most of my life. I first came across them in the 1980’s when they were supposedly a punk band but even then, their magnificent sense of melody and finely crafted songs broke the mould and drenched almost everything they did in a glorious pop syrup. However, it wasn’t until the release and subsequent reception of the 1992 album It’s A Shame About Ray that The Lemonheads became visible to mainstream culture. Even then, that was largely due to Atlantic Records insisting a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs Robinson be included on the re-pressings.
Thus, The Lemonheads had their day in the sun. Well, when I say Lemonheads I really mean Evan Dando, who is the only consistent member of a band that is more fluid than mercury. The problem is, in my opinion the “Shame About Ray” fans are probably less prepared and less willing to tolerate the chaotic and unpredictable moods of Evan Dando. To me, Evan’s rock star approach to life only makes him more authentic, more (dare I say it?) god-like. Yes, I love him and I adore his music. Having said that, I’m doing my utmost to remain objective. Another problem is the packed venue. In my experience, a full house at Stylus means many not being able to see enough of a show and people get frustrated. Am I over-thinking this? I apologise. It’s just that I sense a potential train-wreck. To be honest, for me, it just makes the night feel a little more exciting.
Having got out of work late, and then navigated the nightmare that is Leeds City centre by car, I arrive late. Too late to witness Bass Drum of Death start off the show. I’m more than disappointed but I’m thankful to be here in in time for The Lemonheads. No sooner have I taken up a position right up front, stage left, Evan Dando, looking like an angelic tramp, mooches unassumingly onto the stage. Consistent with the other shows on this tour, Evan will warm up his voice with a smattering of acoustic numbers before the band join him onstage. After mumbling something incoherently, Evan launches into the Smudge cover Outdoor Type. Evan’s voice is noticeably less powerful than it might have been thirty years ago, but it still retains the utterly compelling sweetness that mesmerised me originally many, many moons ago. Next up is Being Around. This stripped back; quirky ode to longing to be noticed is a crowd favourite and immediately initiates a sing-a-long. This intimate scene extends into the next song (Into Your Arms). Evan is warming up but perhaps not so much to sections of the audience. The guitar and vocal levels seem a little low and a group of people having a conversation to the side of the stage are almost as loud as the music. It never ceases to be annoying when this happens and the overall annoyance to these rude interruptions are getting on the nerves of the people in the pit. Evan too seems a little disgruntled.
The next song is Hard Drive. Evan performed this beautifully, his voice apparently hitting the sweet spot, enchants the audience and this show highlight reminds me what an awesome performer Evan is. He was born to be a singer/song writer and I’m so happy he has fulfilled his destiny. The acoustic set tapers off with Favourite T and Ride With Me. The audience are now more than ready for the ante to be upped and a cheer goes around as the band (consisting of Farley Glavin – bass, vocals and Mikey Jones – drums, vocals) join Evan on stage for the main event.
After a short pause for tuning etc, the band launch into Rockin’ Stroll. The band are slick, fast, powerful and snarling. Having spent decades trying to play the opening guitar lick myself, I am amazed at how fluid and precise Evan’s guitar playing is. The audience are in their element now and it seems that everyone in the house knows these songs back to front. The original It’s A Shame About Ray album was very short (under 30 minutes). It’s brevity was always part of what made this album so refreshing and invigorating for me so I hold on for the ride as the band hit the turbo button and race through a record that not only defines my teenage years but my entire life as I reflect that not a week has gone past since first hearing this record, that I have not listened to, or played all or part of this album. At times Evan’s guitar playing is unrehearsed, improvised and chaotic but it never ceases to be awesome as he stomps on effects pedals in a seemingly random way that only ever seems to increase the distortion levels of an already tortured instrument. Simply wonderful. Towards the end of the ‘Shame About Ray set, Evan’s voice is getting broken and ragged but the show’s not over and he has already given us his all. The acoustic cover Frank Mills (Galt McDermott) closes out this part of the show as the band sit this one out and the whole crowd synchronises to share the vocal part with Evan. I am utterly stoked to say that Mrs Robinson was not played. I think a large part of the audience may have been alienated by this but for me, the authentic fans of Lemonheads (and not just the nostalgia crew) are very, very grateful. Knowing that Evan hates that cover, it would seem disingenuous to have played it in my opinion. Many would disagree and I accept that.
Having made the huge and fatal mistake to leave my vantage point from where I could see and hear everything, I left to try and find some fresh air and liquid refreshment. The Stylus was so packed; I could never again find a spot where I could see anything. I can’t help but feel a bigger venue would have been appropriate and that the promoter wasn’t quite expecting this show to be so popular. All that was soon to change however. I remember hearing the never more relevant Hospital, a howled rendition of Break Me, and my partners favourite Tenderfoot (Smudge cover) and perhaps others but eventually Evan stormed off the stage after misconstruing an incident in the crowd as security heavy-handedness. The story I heard (which is unconfirmed) is that a woman fainted in the audience, the security people were assisting her but Evan thought they were throwing her out and left the stage in a strop.
There was a little confusion and a few disappointed punters. I heard many complaining of a lack of audience interaction from Evan and obviously people were miffed at the gig ending so abruptly. For me, I thought Evan and the band had performed heroically, giving their all right up to the point where it stopped.
At times it was clear that Evan no longer has the voice to do justice to some of the more raunchy tunes and for me there is no shame in that. He still delivered some gorgeous music in a way that only he can. These songs are very important to an ever-increasing audience. Quite a few younger faces in the crowd were testament to this. The Lemonheads (Evan Dando) are relevant, vital and have the power to remind us all how indelible a tune, written with love, can become. I hope this music is played forever. Awesome.
Setlist (not complete)
The Outdoor Type (Smudge cover)
Into Your Arms
Ride With Me
It's a Shame About Ray
My Drug Buddy
The Turnpike Down
Alison's Starting to Happen
Hannah & Gabi
Ceiling Fan in My Spoon
Frank Mills (Galt MacDermot cover)
Tenderfoot (Smudge cover)
sorry, we currently have no gigs listed for this act.