The Lemonheads, Shepherds Bush Empire, London (3/5)


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The Independent Culture

There’s an understandable perception that Evan Dando blew it.

The Lemonheads’ dreamily handsome, natural singer-songwriter and only meaningful member was gifted with it all in the early 1990s, then let it slip through his hands. Among his contemporaries in that brief golden age for US alternative rock, Kurt Cobain blew it with more awful literalness. Though Dando dabbled with crack, when fame burnt him out he wisely slipped away in 1997. The best thing he left behind was It’s A Shame About Ray (1992), a 30-minute LP of lightly perfect, off the cuff autobiography.

I saw him play it through at this venue six years ago, so tonight’s repeat performance might seem an admission of defeat. But Dando isn’t after victories of a careerist kind. It feels more like amiable acceptance of what his diminished but still fervent audience want, and, in a set triple …Ray’s length, more too.

No one’s sure if the long-haired dude who wanders on in the dark to fiddle with amps is Dando until he starts singing. He stays bashfully stage-left, leaning into his mic as if about to fall, long hair behind his ears, looks and deep voice intact, peering at us with sidelong hopefulness. Barely moving, he’s a wallflower in a grunge movie star’s body. With Dando leading his latest Lemonheads line-up on fine electric guitar, playing bright Boston rock recalling Dinosaur Jr and Buffalo Tom, It’s A Shame About Ray is rapidly run through. “My Drug Buddy” is the highlight, a song where loneliness, friendship and drug-taking merge. “Kitchen” could be a summation of the slacker day - that dreamy, slothful rebellion against responsibility, discredited in our current merciless work climate, but still appealing. Like “Big Gay Heart” when Dando opens the rest of his songbook, it recalls his generation’s cross-dressing, anti-macho, initially innocent scene.

It takes much longer for the now firmly middle-aged crowd to start a mild mosh-pit than six years ago. Dando’s songs even on Ray were full of gentle alienation and doubt, and 2003’s “All My Life” describes a man “filled with hatred for the time I’ve wasted.” But tonight, aged 44 he says, “I always hoped to be this old man on stage that I am right now,” before playing 1990’s “Stove”, from when he wasn’t. Considering his peers’ fate, this is a happy ending.