Lemonheads live at Limelight, Belfast
Review by Stuart Bailie of NME
TWENTY-FOUR hours before showtime, and Evan Dando is strolling through Belfast, checking the scene. He walks into a bar, listens to the resident band of middle-aged musos and puts in a request. "Say, can I play 'Brown-Eyed Girl' with you guys?"
Much later in the night, and he's still grooving away onstage. An enterprising local boy has printed up loads of handbills and is passing them out on the street, advertising this unique gig. It's a mad scenario indeed: 'Tonight! For one night only!! American grunge star Evan Dando! Onstage with Ulster's top jazz-rock combo, Apartment!!!'
Come the proper show on Wednesday night, however, and this sense of fun and freewheeling adventure has dissipated. Radio stations have been waiting hours for a promised interview. No-show Dando is suffering from jet lag; he's tired and moody. He finally makes it onstage, but the delay has left the entire audience anxious and confused.
He's dressed in black, set off by a matching Les Paul guitar. This is an oddly chic ensemble, and he heightens the effect by peeping demurely from behind his Jacqueline Bisset fringe, not altogether happy. It's the start of a UK tour, and the umpteenth line-up of The Lemonheads is in ragged shape. Evan complains about the mix in his monitor speakers and the heat onstage. He folds a white towel over his head, Mother Theresa-style, and then breaks out of 'Stove' in a fit of frustration. But this isn't righteous rage of for-the-hell-of-it anarchy. The way he's behaving, it just makes you uncomfortable.
Maybe he's revealing part of the problem when he sings the current single, 'The Outdoor Type'. It's a lyric about stereotypes and the pressure to buy the lifestyle. When he hits the line, "I lied until I fit the bill" - you're thinking about the boy's own history; cool left-field band member, mutating into cheery troubadour and scatty pop star, then burning and bingeing on drugs, the present situation unresolved.
But if Evan allowed his anti-Midas instincts to save him from the complications of fame, then he'll never fully escape as long as he keeps playing those near-perfect songs of his. Not even the messy sound of drummer Murph (late of Dinosaur Jr), Kenny Lyons on bass and the old Lemonheads drummer John Strohm, now playing guitar, can destroy that gift.
People cheer for most of the songs
from the 'It's A Shame About Ray' album. Evan sometimes perks up also, and
they all meet joyously in 'Confetti' and 'Alison's Starting to Happen'. You realise that if he'd wanted to sustain the mood, to routinely supply this brand of shine in his music, then the guy could have ruled the world.
But he's off again, back to his
old record collection, and a piercing version of 'Close Up The Honky Tonks',
tribute to that definitive cowboy junkie, Gram Parsons. Evan's love for the man is unaffected, and his voice is now so dose to Gram's wracked timbre, it's scary. It's one of the few times in the night that he looks content.
Songs like 'if I Could Talk I'd Tell You' register the latest Lemonheads form - still beautifully shaped but infected with dread, lacking the open-hearted idealism of the past. At one stage, he just lies on his back, squalling on his guitar, as Strohm reclaims his drumkit, thrashing it wildly.
He leaves us, rather appropriately, with 'Style'. It's a song about indulgence and abstinence, the call of the wild and the promise of staying straight. At least he's honest enough not to pretend that the song has some conclusion. Evan's angels and demons are still fighting over the prize.