ROCK / Rook'n'roll just refuses to die

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The Independent Culture
MANY A high street is currently missing its Christmas lights, and the finger of suspicion points at Atlanta timewarp rockers the Black Crowes. Strung out across the profusion of camouflage netting above, behind and in front of the Brixton Academy stage, the borrowed bulbs twinkle cheekily. The decor sounds the evening's only note of originality. The band are tangled up in a net of their own, unwilling or unable to shake themselves free of an Anglo- American ramalama heritage mapped out by a hulking gamut of Seventies cock-rockers, from the Faces to Lynyrd Skynyrd.

The thing is that none of the people who used to play this stuff are really up to it any more, and the Black Crowes are pretty good at it. Chris Robinson sings like Rod Stewart used to when he was single, which cannot be a bad thing. It's hard to know where his top gear rasp comes from. It can't be from deep within his chest, because he hasn't got one - Robinson is so thin that when he goes behind the microphone stand, he disappears. His absurd interpretative dancing suggests, rather worryingly, that he sees himself as a man making a major artistic statement, but no one lets that spoil their enjoyment.

The band's other five members look quite shy, embarrassed even. They have no reason to be. Their latest album, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (Def American), has added some snappy new numbers to their songbook, notably the magnificently chunky 'Sometimes Salvation' and the twirling 'Remedy'. Sadly, the momentum of this show is completely lost by the appalling 'spontaneous' guitar workout in the middle. 'We're just going to jam for a little while, if that's cool with you,' says Robinson (his between-song pronouncements testify throughout to the debilitating effects of long-term marijuana use), prompting a mass rush for refreshments. The self-indulgent horror which follows casts a shadow over the whole show. Not for the true believers though, two of whom turn to each other and whisper, simultaneously, 'Rock and roll]'

'If I was your body, would you still wear clothes? If I was a booger, would you blow your nose?' This sample couplet from the Lemonheads current single 'Being Around' is not the stuff of conventional romance, but it is the off-centredness of leading man Evan Dando that gives him his considerable allure. Dando's record company, having taken a long time to realise that they have a star on their hands, have now gone into overdrive; persuading him to couple the above songwriting landmark with a sappy cover version of 'Mrs Robinson' to make sure it gets into the charts, and flying him back from Boston for a free solo showcase at Ronnie Scott's, just after a full UK tour.

The show, packed out with industry big-wigs and competition winners, is misguidedly advertised, giving rise to a queue of disappointed lunchtime fun-seekers. Inside, their worst fears are confirmed by a totally beguiling performance. Dando is unassuming in background and heritage; he looks like one more American with hair over his eyes who probably never gets up before midday, and there wasn't much in the Lemonheads' previous albums to suggest that their most recent one, It's a Shame About Ray, would be the soft-sung triumph it has been. Grunge-trappings removed, Dando emerges as a delightful country rock cabaret artist. He spends much of the show trying to come to terms with an unruly guitar strap, but his voice is sonorous and windswept, in an indoors kind of way. And his songs, which rarely go on for more than a couple of minutes, leave a lasting impression with their distinctive blend of pathos and insight.