The Lemonheads, HMV Forum, London
The tangy taste of past glories
Tuesday 22 September 2009
Evan Dando has had something of the typical, quirky, rock star life. There was his apotheosis as one of the leading lights of the grunge scene in the early 1990s; there was the unhappy rise to fame off the back of his band's cover of "Mrs Robinson" (featured on their 1992 "breakthrough" album, It's a Shame about Ray); there was his much-publicised use of crack cocaine, and there was something of a gradual slide into obscurity as the world moved on, threw away its ripped jeans, and binned and then subsequently rediscovered their checked shirts over the ensuing decade. He's recently popped up in the press to claim that the 11 September attacks could have been the work of an unpiloted "drone" as opposed to terrorists in the aircraft (nice) and he even appeared at this year's Port Eliot Literary Festival in Cornwall. While there he got drunk and had to cancel his gig the following night (The Women's Institute work there was apparently too appealing).
But to most, however, Dando will always be responsible for providing a soundtrack to their youth, music that transported you to an emotionally "other" place of awkward conversations and strange man-crushes. His lyrics and songs sported the snarling guitars that propelled Nirvana into the stratosphere, but in his case, they always provided an interesting, primal counterpoint to his sometimes naive lyrics and workmanlike attitude to singing, discussing as he went the disenfranchised, over-plugged-in youth of his surroundings, rather than underpinning any sense of alienated rage. Songs like "My Drug Buddy", "Big Gay Heart" or "The Outdoor Type" were more interested in telling the story of a boy lying to a girl about being into camping rather than, say, mulling over the importance of guns or eating people's cancer when they turn black.
And so how refreshing it is to see Dando slouch onstage at this near-packed gig, with long hair pasted across one side of his face, still sporting his ripped jeans and hunching over the microphone, barely mumbling anything beyond an acknowledgement that several hundred people in their late 20s and early 30s are going apoplectic with excitement to see him. From the opening affectionate roar he launched into a series of classic performances of his major hits: "My Drug Buddy", "Style" (with its iconic lyrics "I don't wanna not get stoned") and "It's About Time". Two thirds of the way through the evening he grabbed his acoustic guitar and rattled off "Frank Mills" (provoking, again, much affectionate cooing), along with "The Outdoor Type", much to everyone's obvious glee.
He returned with the full band for the encore – the line-up, over the years, has changed more times than Spinal Tap's drummer – to belt out "Rudderless" ("a ship without a rudder is like a ship without a rudder"). Tonight, Dando appeared alongside Vess Ruhtenburg (bass) and Devon Ashley (drums), the pair who accompanied him on the group's latest release, a collection of cover versions (appropriately enough) which were released in July. That record, Varshons (the English way of pronouncing "versions", apparently (Dando has a British wife), was greeted with a certain amount of predictable affection at the time, despite appearances by Kate Moss (singing over what the band quite wistfully describe as a "dance groove" on Arling & Cameron's "Dirty Robot") and Liv Tyler (backing vocals on Leonard Cohen's "Hey That's No Way to Say Goodbye"). Tonight, renditions of its tracks were in short supply as the way was paved for nostalgia. "The Green Fuz" (originally by the 1960s garage rockers of the same name) and G G Allin's "Layin' Up With Linda" were its only inclusions. On the whole, though, this evening was an appealing slope down memory lane – and most people there treated it as such.
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