Lemonheads live at Minsthorpe High School, Pontefract - October 1993
Review by Johnny Cigarettes from NME
THE BLACKBOARD JANGLE
'Don't do drugs, kids, drink tea instead," croaks a tired and emotional - plus çâ change - Evan Dando just before his croon strings finally snap. 'It soothes your voice and keeps you high."
Tonight he is every inch the caring liberal who occasionally says the f-word - as is only proper since this is an assembly hall full of jaded adolescents at a slightly grim comprehensive on a dour overspill estate in West Yorkshire. And the whole event is evidently intended as some sort of educational school bop, organised for, by and with The Kids. Putting rock'n'roll back on the national curriculum, where it belongs. Or something.
In the light of recent admissions, Evan Dando would hardly seem to be an ideal guide for our young people along the path of good citizenship. A rather naive, long-haired hippy drop-out silly love songwriter with a well, documented tendency to frolic with maidens outside wedlock and also talk openly in family publications such as this about dabbling in Class A drugs; couldn't they get Cliff Richard?
"So he's been talking in NME about crack - shock horror" shrugs the organiser of the whole shebang, history teacher Melanie Jones. "A lot of the kids at this school have come across worse than that before. The thing about events like these (they've been putting on occasional glgs at the school for five years, including Cud, Kingmaker, The Wonder Stuff and The Levellers) is that it's useful educationally as well as culturally, because the kids have a very big hand in organising everything - catering, roadie-ing and doing security. It's great for them."
As it turns out, for the Lemonheads and their attendant entourage, this is something of a cultural education too. For example, it's fairly clear that we're not in Rock Central when the pre-gig communal catering is served up for the band, hacks, TV people, parents and kids. There are no fondant heroin fancies or rich speed biccies, and the white powder spread suspiciously over the table is skimmed milk. You're not even allowed to smoke (drummer Dave Ryan is forced to have a furtive cig behind the physics block); the only available indulgence is to chow down on some homemade quiche and scones. It's as if American alternative rock has been plunged Into the midst of a Mike Leigh film.
But we can't forget the educational theme of the day, and soon It's time for a slightly silly `Question And Answer' session between a few eager pupils and our Evan. Unfortunately, it ends up as a photo opportunity for the Children's BBC team between the mildly cringesome silences.
So hey! The Kids! What d'you like most about the Lemonheads?
"It's an afternoon off school," enthuses 14 year old Darren.
"Is he the lead singer then?" enquires 13-year-old Sam.
"Hey, where d'you get those trousers?" ventures 26-year-old Evan, pointing at Darren's shell suit bottoms. "Oh, cool!" Oh well.
By half past six, Children's TV presenter Andi Peters is beating Evan hands-down in the autograph request stakes, but he doesn't stand a chance in the competition for the gazing adoration of the long-skirts-and-pristine-Doc-Martens sixth form mafia, hanging on Evan's every bite of crumbly quiche.
Meanwhile, the austere assembly hall has suddenly mutated into a screaming sweat shop a full 90 minutes before The 'Heads are due onstage. There's an incredible vibe filling the place, and when our heroes finally emerge to blaze through 'Stove', attendant mothers can be seen frantically motioning to their husbands to save their daughters from the bouncing hairy crush. Unfortunately, this is way beyond their ken or their control - as, of course, a pop gig should be.
"We started this band in high school," muses Evan, blushing cutely, "so I guess it's kind of appropriate that we're doing this now. Thanks for comin' along, anyway!" He has a charming way with the kiddies - but the legendary sleepy love-lorn voice is not quite at full warble tonight due to a sore throat, and the narcoleptic cocked-bonce rock histrionics are slightly muted by the flu and an ear infection.
But we do not give a fig. The loose, windmilling chunder of 'Alison's Starting To Happen', 'Rockin' Stroll', 'Kitchen' and 'Down About It', et al is such flat-out garage splatter that he could give up the vocals for good and no-one would think it a decent reason to stop flailing around like a punky gibbon.
Then there's the melodic sway of 'My Drug Buddy', 'It's A Shame About Ray' and 'Into Your Arms' - an excuse for mass ironic slow arm waving and a chance for the parents to relax their bemused frowns a degree or two. The only lull comes with the medium pace of 'Rudderless' and 'Confetti' threatening to hit dirgeville as the Dando voice strains on its last reserves. Sadly, medical help is not at hand since the white haired troopers of the St John's Ambulance have long since retired, shell shocked by the sweaty hormonal blast, to their flasks of tea at the back. Doncaster Rovers matches were never like this.
More cynical observers might suggest Evan is becoming sulted to an audience even younger than this one, judging by the whimsy, and slush puppy tendencies of new songs like 'Being Around' and 'Into Your Arms'. Admittedly, they feel like ditties - superb ditties at that - but not quite in the league the evocative, classic simplicity of, say, 'My Drug Buddy'.
You worry that he might end up like some kind of '90s Paul McCartney, with a natural talent for a killer tune, but also with a annoying predilection for cloying airhead sentimentality: perhaps more serious drugs are the answer. Thankfully, at the moment even at his most daft, there's an endearing and indefatigable Richman-esque romance that you can't help loving him for. "If I was a cheque would you let me bounce up and down your bank account?",he simpers. Don't you just want to mother the poor lamb?
Eventually, the voice problems become more comic than tragic, with an adolescent cacophony filling in for Evan as he coughs his guts up. "I don't wanna get stoned, but I wanna not get stoned," they screech, and it all ends up sounding bizarrely appropriate - because if nothing else The Lemonheads perfect for good, clean, hedonistic thrills.
After a daft but serene acoustic 'Being Around' encore, played with a towel round his shoulders, Evan waves a suitably sweet and dopey goodbye and we're left stone cold sober, totally unstoned and unfeasibly high on pure pop. All that remains is thousands of discard plastic Coke cups, hundreds of autographed souvenir photos, scores of happily bruised limbs, and a few bruised tonsils from snoggig to the tunes of the Great Bard Of Slackerdom. And we're all tucked up in bed by 9.30. In short, the teen pop experience as God, if not your form teacher, intended it.