ROCK / The Lemonheads give punk a whole new meaning

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The Independent Culture
'REMEMBER punk?' asks the sullen Scots singer of Eugenius. 'Remember when it was round for the first time? Back when it was real punk?' For him, punk means passion and aggression. Not so for Evan Dando, of headlining act the Lemonheads. Later in the evening, he mutters: 'I'm feeling a bit punk tonight. When we say punk it means sorta . . . unwell.'

It shows. There is not much passion and aggression in the Lemonheads' set. Dando stoops over the microphone, his debilitated vocal draining the vigour out of what should be some of the best tunes in the grunge canon. 'I want to be someone else,' he sings. 'I want to be somewhere else,' he must be thinking.

Most of the songs finish with an imperfect cadence, a feedback whistle and Dando on a high note, as if to prove that the band are capable of interesting effects, and may well get round to incorporating them into their melodies at some point in the future.

The other Lemonheads try in vain to help matters. The new additional guitarist, John Strum (no, I don't believe it either), might have done the trick. As Dando is a fan of Gram Parsons, we could have expected some Byrds-style chiming harmonies. Instead we have two people whacking out the chords instead of one. Nick Dalton, the bassist, shouts: 'Hello, up in the gods]' This is either a hamfisted attempt at rock-concert banter, or an impromptu prayer that Dando will get his act together.

His prayer is temporarily answered during the first encore, when Dando is left to perform some solo slowies. In the Temptations' 'Shakey Ground', for instance, he has the soul that is lacking in the faster songs.

The Shepherd's Bush Empire brings to mind a cave of bats: every balcony and box is coated with screaming teenage girls. But if you expect more for your pounds 10 than the chance to gawp at the gorgeous Dando, you must be feeling a bit punk.

Luckily, John Hiatt is in better shape, even if he is not so much Generation X as Generation BC. Hiatt sounds like Bruce Springsteen would if he drove from New Jersey towards Nashville. He specialises in rootsy rock 'n' roll tempered with tender, vulnerable lyrics.

Last year he borrowed his teenage stepson's Pearl Jam and Nirvana tapes, and came up with Perfectly Good Guitar (A&M), his hardest, noisiest album. He still talks like Sheriff Rosco from The Dukes of Hazzard ('Folks, this is a song from this little CD

thang we have out'), but his new band are young and tough and he is more than a match for them. Both his singing and playing are suitably gravelly and warm, and as skilful as you would expect from a pal of Ry Cooder's.

He is also a genial and jocular good-old-boy. Introducing 'Pink Bedroom', he joshes: 'You couldn't tell from lookin' at me, but I recorded this song 14 years ago. You're sayin', 'John, you must have been a baby.' Well, actually I was.' He howls and sniffs around like a prairie dog during 'Something Wild'. He hugs and strokes his Gretsch in 'Perfectly Good Guitar', a heartfelt love song: 'There oughta be a law with no bail / Smash a guitar and you go to jail.' Hiatt has no need of Townshend / Hendrix demolition tactics to convince you that the emotion he writes about is real.

There is plenty of fun to be had from Huey Lewis and the News at

the Hammersmith Apollo. You can count how many times Lewis ends a song by jumping in the air so that the News hit the last note as he hits the stage (17) and how many times the guitarist sprints forward to the footlights for his solos (24). You can even work out what it is about the bassist that most reminds you of Vincent, the superannuated teddy boy from Tutti Frutti. Is it his shades, his slicked- back receding hair, his black leather suit and cowboy boots, or the cigarette hanging from his mouth?

Lewis's chunky R'n'B is fun, too. The News include a horn section and black backing singers, who turn the show into a safer version of A Tribute to the Blues Brothers. Too processed to be satisfying as a concert, but it could work as a West End show.

Lemonheads: Glastonbury Festival today; Reading Festival 26 Aug.

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