Lemonheads live at Manchester University - 2nd October 1996
Supported by You Am I
Review by Mark Beaumont of NME
The security men stage right stare at each other, confused. A grinning tramp has stopped scribbling surreal messages on the dressing room wall (‘Nothing that gets me high hurts my stomach’; ‘Gag me with a heroin spoon’; ‘I love Bonehead’), walked onstage, picked up a guitar and greeted the welcoming roar with wide-mouthed perplexity. His expression matches those of the bewildered security. It says, simply: what the hell am I doing here?
What indeed? The last time Evan Dando plucked a guitar in jest on British soil he was bottled off by impatient Portishead fans at Glasters, a crowd disgusted by his descent from boyish beach babe to buffoon-for-rent. Cancelled shows, Renton-esque hair ‘cuts’, crack confessions, an ability to humiliate himself with the aid of only a tambourine and Oasis – by the end of ’94 he was the mad uncle who smells strange at the Britpop party, more likely to get spare change than respect. The post-Kurt kids were unanimous. How, they sneered, could a man with such a stranglehold on sweet’n’silky jangle pop get so screwed…?
So, essentially, Evan is here on a mission: to win back the reverence of a fanbase who thought they’d lost him to the Syd Barrett Home Of Rock Nuttiness. And he goes about his task in the only way he knows how. He plays breezy, bouncy and beautiful guitar pop with few between-song gaps to cut down on his chances of falling over. He grows his hair again and (albeit unconsciously) emphasises his own gorgeousness by employing Mr Creosote in a Cheap Trick T-shirt on bass. He attempts an English accent, almost breaks into ‘We Will Rock You’ before ‘The Outdoor Type’ and grins like a drunk busker with God’s own set-list.
It works. After steaming through ‘It’s All True’ and ‘If I Could Talk I’d Tell You’ to prove that his ability to write classic pop singles didn’t go the way of his tonsils during the drug binges, he ploughs rampantly into The Hits. Two minutes into ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’, he’s Old Evan once more – the clean-cut poster prince who knocks out fireball hooks like most people chew wine gums and occasionally snogs Juliana Hatfield. Only ‘My Drug Buddy’ smacks of an irony bordering on the melancholic as several hundred people stop leaping around like hyperactive hippos and wonder what might have happened to the buddy.
If anything has changed in Dandoworld it’s that Evan now treads the fine line between genius and pastiche. New tunes like ‘One More Time’ and ‘Something’s Missing’ may be masterfully structured pop songs but they’re autopilot Evan, the results of, like, uh, not being arsed to write a chorus. Yet a few charging chords of ‘Confetti’ or a stray twangled riff of ‘Rudderless’ and he’s trainsurfing his way into our hearts and trousers once again.
Then he disappears, re-emerges,
along and clad in a dopey Dylan from The Magic Roundabout hat , and
proceeds to piss all over Noel’s acoustic warblings from a very good
height indeed. ‘Divan’ and ‘Being Around’ are awesome
and affecting, casting Evan as the cuddly teenage troubadour stranded at the
sleep-over. ‘Big Gay Heart’, meanwhile, is so drenched in vulnerability
that it makes ‘Wonderwall’ sounds like the gruntings of a particularily
agitated herd of buffalo.
A triumphant, full-band rampage through ‘Into Your Arms’ and they’re gone, sloping into the wings and gurning at the security men, halfway back to heaven and climbing.