Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Lemonheads @ The Irish Centre, Digbeth, Tuesday 15th September 2009

Lordy…I’ve not been to a gig at The Irish Centre for ages. It seems that they (whoever they are) are doing the old place up and, although it’s still a work in progress, it reminded me of just what a cracking venue it can be – a decent sized stage, a good view from wherever you stand and a bar (and staff) that delivers a lush, creamy pint of Guinness in your sticky mits in double quick time. Thanks to yet more West Midlands Travel shenanigans (and a little piss poor planning on my part) we arrived as the first act was already on but both he (I didn’t catch his name) and the second support, Richard Burke seemed to have a decent clutch of folky self penned songs. Richard established a nice patter with the crowd too (Evan Dando take note…) and gave us a refreshingly different take on Yazoo’s ‘Only You’.

But tonight was all about The Lemonheads of course. For a while The Lemonheads’ star shone bright with a massive album (It’s a Shame About Ray) and a lead singer who made one of those ‘most beautiful people in the world’ lists (to be fair he was a bit of alright back then). However lead ‘head, Evan Dando, developed a nasty crack habit (in every sense of the word…I believe he once ‘had a go’ at Courtney Love), lost his voice for a time (Chris de Burgh won it in a game of ‘craps’ and refused to give it back) and drifted into semi obscurity. I guess many people would find it hard to name a Lemonheads song, but you’d know them when you heard them. ‘Into Your Arms’, ‘If I Could Talk I’d Tell You’ and their cover of ‘Mrs Robinson’ all received oodles of mainstream play back in the day. But now they’re (well Dando and some other bods at least) back, back, back with an all covers album (Varshons) featuring songs by the likes of GG Allin (notorious shock rocker who regularly beat up his audience and performed naked save for generous smears of his own pooh), Wire and…er…Christina Aguilara. Whether this signifies a drying up of Dando’s mojo or not remains to be seen (although an original album’s supposedly in the pipeline).

I’d read some mixed reviews the tour so far so my expectations for tonight’s show were set at a fairly low level. In particular some had commented on the workmanlike performance and how Evan has a tendency to just come on, crack through the songs at breakneck speed and then get the hell out of there. The speed issue was certainly true tonight. I lost count of just how many songs they did…20? 30? 40? Seriously, it could have been that many (the set list seemed to be 3 sheets of A4 paper taped together). Bang, bang, bang…crank ‘em out. Personally I’m not averse to a fast turnover set (if you don’t like a tune no worries, there’s another along in 45 seconds) but, at times, I got the sense that the tracks had barely got going before they were swept aside for a fresh one. Evan wasn’t in a chatty mood either (I’m not sure he ever is) and it was a good half an hour or so before he spoke to the audience. Again, that’s not the be all and end all of a performance but, you know, it’s kind of nice to be nice and all that jazz. The benefit of this no nonsense ‘do exactly what it says on the tin’ approach is that the assembled faithful (judging by the sing alongs and tour t-shirts from the early 90’s many were long standing fans) were treated to all the hits and key album tracks (with the obvious exception of 'Mrs Robinson' – the single that was released without the band’s blessing and which went on to become one of their biggest successes). However, Evan’s clearly got a bit of a temper on him, kicking out the footlights on the stage and laying down his guitar and stomping off stage when he felt the sound wasn’t right (it sounded fine to me) during the solo part of the show (he returned and played for another 40 minutes). You’d think from reading all this that the show was a bit of a disaster. Opinion was split from what I could gather but, personally, I left feeling more impressed than let down. It actually made a refreshing change to see someone who clearly isn’t there to win friends and influence people and who, in this world of polished stage managed celebrity, still retains something of that ‘fuck you’ rock n’roll attitude. To be fair to Evan he did mutter a few words along the lines of ‘Hope you’re having a good time’ and kind of waved at us (well, his hand moved up a little, but he may just have been swatting a fly or something) as he left the stage. The voice, whilst a little more battered than in the past, was far stronger than I’d been expecting too and really suited the world weary nature of many of the songs. Predictably there was no encore. Hurrah I say. I can’t stand that going off, coming on bullshit. Do the set. Take a bow. Leave on a high. Evan gets my vote on that one. What tonight did do was reveal just what a strong songbook Evan’s accumulated over the years. Check out ‘Rudderless’, ‘Alison’s Starting to Happen’, ‘Outdoor Type’, ‘Bit Part’, 'December'…the list goes on. These are great songs, perhaps somewhat unfairly confined to the 90’s (I guess it's still a little soon for that decade to be plundered and recycled). It’s unlikely that Evan’s ever going to suck corporate cock and play the PR game to get the accolades that he deserves but, if there’s any justice, flawed but strangely memorable gigs like this will continue to keep the flickering flame alive.


Wayne said...

Great review!


The Baron said...

Aww bless you...oh...right I see...hang on let me take a look...oh yes...excellent photos too!

Wayne said...

Thank you Daron :o)

pete said...

Any chance you could post the setlist. i was there and thoroughly enjoyed the gig but cannot for the life of me remember the entire setlist.

The Baron said...

Hi Pete,

Sorry, I wasn't able to get hold of one and my aging brain can't remember all of the tracks either!