ROCK / Squeezing the last drops of nostalgia

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The Independent Culture
WHO SAID South London was a cultural desert? Doughty Deptford balladeers Squeeze suffuse the Royal Albert Hall with a gentle mist of turn-of-the-Eighties nostalgia. The band's melodious mainstays, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, still have the air of a pair of cheeky sixth-formers who have taken their ties off for the journey home, and their boys-next-door lyricism has lost none of its charm with the passing years.

From the first song, a sprightly and plaintive 'Another Nail In My Heart', clumps of keen occasional dancers spring up from the well-polished woodwork. The rigid feel of the prevailing Hofmeister-bear dance style is comically at odds with the fluidity of the best of the songwriting. Not every tune is a gem, though. Over the years, Squeeze have sought to broaden their range, as bands do, and while they've mastered country and skiffle, soul and reggae would have been better left to the experts. Likewise, Tilbrook and Difford's decision to let others have a go at singing is not a wise one.

Their voices are so beautifully balanced - Tilbrook's angelic bleat against Difford's saucy rasp - that keyboard player Paul Carrack's ersatz soul stylings seem like a real intrusion. Otherwise, there are few interruptions to the evening's cosy flow. The famous couplet from 'Up The Junction' - 'I never thought it would happen/With me and a girl from Clapham' - sends a wave of goose pimples around the auditorium, but the sadness that lurks just below the surface of many of their lads' laments rarely shows through. There's a song called 'Cold Shoulder' on their new album, which has a harder edge to it than anything else Squeeze have done, but they don't play it tonight.

New York's Spin Doctors have only been together for four years, but their self-consciously dippy brand of loose-limbed rock has plenty of rings around its trunk. The infernally catchy 'Two Princes' was one of those songs that transcend chronology, and the band draw a happily mixed crowd of Q readers and well-scrubbed Friday-night pop kids to the Brixton Academy. If the kids are upset by the dread sight of a Jimmy Page-style double-necked guitar, they manage not to show it, and the Doctors' every move is received with something very like fervour.

Australian-raised singer Chris Barron lollops about the stage, a hyperactive rag doll. An open, trusting face lurks beneath those Catweazle whiskers, and his aura of born-too-late hippy innocence perfectly complements the band's sales pitch, which goes something like this: Hey, this band is real. Their name is an ironic pointer to a world of cynical image-mongering with which they have no connection. Image-mongering does not get much more cynical than that, but three million satisfied customers can't be wrong.

The other two singles from Spin Doctors' debut album Pocket Full of Kryptonite (Epic), the current 'Jimmy Olsen's Blues', which opens the set, and the unappealingly misogynistic 'Little Miss Can't be Wrong', which is the second encore, are both built around the same choppy riffs and gently declamatory vocal style as 'Two Princes'. The rest of their material is more open-ended, as befits a band that burst out of a shambling pack of would-be new Grateful Deads, and the gaps between tunes get longer as they take the opportunity to - well, I can't bring myself to write the word, but it begins with J and rhymes with ham.

Boston's Lemonheads, particularly their puppy-eyed singer and songwriter Evan Dando, have experienced a dramatic change in status over the past year. The transformation from college rock also-ran to crown prince of bubble-grunge has not been without its cost, if Dando's depressing recent confessions of crack use are anything to go by, but the new album Come on Feel the Lemonheads (East West, LP/ CD/tape, out tomorrow) shows his creative gifts to be in sparklingly good order.

The only decline from last year's treasured It's a Shame about Ray is in the cover art, which has slumped from nice painting to horrid photo. Otherwise, it's upwards and onwards. There are several great country-pop moments here; the potentially glutinous 'Big Gay Heart' and the delightful 'Being Around' are both more than worthy of the sublime pedal-steel guitar of Sneaky Pete, the former Gram Parsons sideman. Dando does not just have a way with a cute one-liner - 'Your favourite T, it never looked as good on you as it does on me' - he can sing too. When this man holds a note, it stays held. His romanticism occasionally drifts into soppiness, especially when it involves Juliana Hatfield, backing singer and inexplicable star in the making, but nobody's perfect.

Squeeze play Southend Cliffs (0702 351135) tomorrow; Brighton Dome (0273 674357) Tues; Portsmouth Guildhall (0705 824355) Wed.