Lemonheads live at Shepherds Bush Empire, London - 19th June 1994
Review by Dele Fadele of NME
How has Evan Dando managed to survive the Russian roulette games and hoop-jumping required of a heart-throb by the shark-infested music industry? How does he manage to go from strength to strength? Why isn’t he doped-up, alcohol-ridden, barely coherent, forgotten or dead?
The answer lies in the fact that there’s always been distance between public perceptions and private predelictions of artists. If Dando’s onstage persona is of the “Aw, gee shucks… I love y’all” variety, you can bet his daily life is haunted by darker demons. Simply put, nobody can be this nice unless they’ve had a lobotomy. Nobody can drift through life so happy-go-lucky unless they’re carrying heavy baggage.
Somehow, the Lemonheads manage to be all things to all people breathing rarefied rock air. To men, they’re at once heroic and sensitive, carefree and hip, great role models. To some women, you guess they’re hormonally powered but manageable – speaking directly to each lovelorn soul as if she was the last person on earth. And to cynics of either gender the equation is: Good looks + good management + mystique + good tunes = success. Nevertheless, Dando and his cheery men are performers in the truest sense of the word, knowing when to caress the crowd and when to knock them over the head, when to go away and when to linger.
For whatever reason, the lion’s share of the show avoids the new LP in favour of familiar, older songs. Helping after helping of guitar-pop confetti laced with country-esque frills is served up and enjoyment is paramount. Only The Lemonheads can write seemingly innocuous drug-frenzy songs of the calibre of ‘Alison’s Starting to Happen’ and the sedate, stately ‘My Drug Buddy’ and not get the moral minority hordes up in arms. And no-one covers songs in this way: no-one renders Mike Nesmith’s ‘Distant Drum’(sic) as a solo acoustic lament or turns Suzanne Vega’s frail, child-abuse tale ‘Luka’ into an uptempo, guitar stormer that carries not just traces of melancholy but full-blown sadness.
Evan Dando puts fine details into his songs and turns the everyday into a crusade. “The clock on the wall/I can no longer fool” is a telling couplet, but the real coup comes during ‘Big Gay Heart’ when Dando asks “Why can’t you look after yourself and not down on me?” - the fact that the song is also set to a country strum will go down very well with rednecks of all persuasions until they realise what he’s singing about. Pure subversion. And the catchiness inscribed on ‘Into Your Arms’ is similarly hard to fault, pop thrills galore.
To be churlish, you could say The Lemonheads are competent journey men with chops, fronted by a class songwriter, but you’d be doing them a disservice. Theirs is the high standard British pop groups on the make must reach to make any financial sense outside this island. And that’s a stone-cold truth.