The Lemonheads, Shepherds Bush Empire, London
Friday 16 September 2005
It's a Shame about Ray was their one true classic, a record of gently bittersweet Gram Parsons grunge forgotten now by anyone who wasn't around in 1992, when it seduced the indie nation.
But playing it in its entirety, as the briefly reformed band do tonight, is a reminder of an innocence, in Dando and us, that was soon exhausted. Because the singer's puppyish eagerness to please and appetite for pleasure almost did him in immediately afterwards. He lost his sweet voice to crack, then trailed Noel Gallagher round Reading like a well-meaning stalker, sadly derailing his career.
Seeing Dando and his band back again is an excavation of both broken hopes and buried pop beauty. It's a Shame about Ray's indistinct charm is soon summed up on "Confetti". "He kinda shoulda sorta woulda loved her if he could've," Dando offers, still looking good enough for most girls to let him off.
The pain that was rushing toward him when he wrote it is then hinted at on the title track, with its lyrical touches of inner isolation, offset by a chorus that the heaving crowd greet like a friend they had thought was gone for good. "My Drug Buddy", so lovely but freighted with latter-day meaning, cuts still deeper for everyone.
Strummed acoustically at a sluggish pace suggesting a pleasant heroin haze, Dando murmurs: "I'm too much with myself/ I wanna be someone else." Lodged in a song that still sounds fragilely addictive, the cry for help couldn't be much louder. The Lemonheads play it all with a thick, fuzzed guitar attack reminiscent of their pre-Ray days as a punkish Boston band and the fans roil and thud into each other as if this is a grunge nostalgia night.
"Bit Part" and "Kitchen" give two more modest pop masterclasses. Then, with the strange shaggy-dog story of "Frank Mills", sung by the crowd like a mass lullaby, Dando concludes It's a Shame about Ray, a half-hour album that has never outstayed its welcome.
Dispatching The Lemonheads to the wings, Dando then stands alone to whip through some slightly later favourites. "The Outdoor Type" and the hit "Being Around" easily rev up an audience so delighted to see him back that his 21st-century near invisibility seems almost inexplicable.
His strange lack of charisma on stage, for a man born with all the aces, and the feeling he's been burned too much to try too hard again, offer two reasons. Then The Lemonheads are back with him, the signal for Dando to acknowledge the affection erupting around him.
"Thanks for having us back," he says with feeling. "I love you all." He leaves for good soon afterwards, a touching reminder of gone good times.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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