LEMONHEADS/SOUL ASYLUM/EUGENIUS Manchester Academy 25/10/93

I had mixed feelings about going to see the Lemonheads again, after being Not Very Impressed with them at Reading and the music press being awash with Evan Dando's apparent desire to live the Gram Parsons lifestyle to its fatal conclusion, but what with "Come On Feel The Lemonheads" being undoubtedly their best album yet, and the rather interesting Soul Asylum tagging along, it looked worth a try.

Cunningly, Eugenius were on stage five minutes before the doors were scheduled to open, but undaunted by the lack of crowd they played quite an impressive set in the traditional long-haired indie band mould...they're sort of Teenage Fanclub meets Jesus And Mary Chain, very disciplined, fond of feedback but not afraid of songs.

Soul Asylum might sound like Tom Petty these days, but allegedly many years ago they were a genuine garage/grunge-type band, hence their ability to play the admittedly-very-good "Runaway Train" one-and-a-half times to an audience of Manc PopKids and get away with it. They were also very good, although given the apparent Soul Asylum-fan density in the audience they had very little to prove. Quite why they're willing to play second on the bill to young upstarts like the Lemonheads is a mystery, but it's to their credit that they do.

And the Lemonheads?? Compared to what they were like last time round, a different band. Managing the difficult trick of sounding professional and loose at the same time, they cruised through almost all of the "It's A Shame About Ray" and "Come On Feel..." albums, plus the sublime "Ride With Me" and "Stove" off "Lovey". They weren't even fazed when the stage started to collapse five songs in...no doubt due to the weight of thirteen-year-olds at the front. The mellower songs came across as well as could reasonably be expected, and the rockers turned the whole place into Moshpit Central. Other highlights...a solo acoustic version of Gram Parson's (thanks, Mike!) "Streets Of Baltimore", a cover of "Femme Fatale", a roadie invited to add inebriated backing vocals to "Confetti" and fruit being distributed amongst the front rows during the guitar solo in "Style".

In sum? A great night out...the Lemonheads really have improved out of all recognition. And they had enough style to totally fail to play "Mrs Robinson"!

LEMONHEADS Car Button Cloth (Atlantic)

Three years ago "Come On Feel The Lemonheads" was the toast of the pop heap: unequal measures of Big Star and bubblegum, the Monkees you could mosh to, the Lemonheads of the time also managed to put on a live show that for once was just that, and with Evan Dando’s pin-up looks and lengthy locks you didn’t have to be a thirteen year-old girlie to appreciate it, but it probably helped. Now, its creator having endured all manner of chemical and coiffure disasters, the seventh Lemonheads album is with us, accompanied by all sorts of cleaned-up-but-still-mixed-up interview acreage.

Which pretty much sums up "Car Button Cloth": with its backdrop of distant ‘n’ distorted bubblegrunge it never seems to know exactly what it wants, beyond some hazy desire to be liked by many - imagine the least impressive parts of whatever Lemonheads albums you may be acquainted with played on repeat for forty minutes. There are some fine mellower moments, for example "C’Mon Daddy", whose gentle melody and slightly confused sentiments mark it out as a successor to the likes of "Big Gay Heart", and "The Outdoor Type", in which Evan the unhappy camper lists reasons not to go on an excursion under canvas, e.g. "What if something’s on TV and it’s never shown again?". Permit yourself a wry smile at "6ix" and its chorus of "Here comes Gwyneth’s head in a box", and "Tenderfoot" most successfully evokes the classic Lemonheads sound of old. Unfortunately though, like the articles in its title (derived from a children’s game involving seeing what objects floated in water), "Car Button Cloth" is substantially a sinker.

THE LEMONHEADS The Best Of The Lemonheads The Atlantic Years (Atlantic)

Somewhat after the fact, given that Evan Dando's solo career is showing its first signs of stirring, but I couldn't resist picking this beastie up for a fiver in MVC's Christmas sale, especially as it comes laden with alternate versions that have otherwise evaded the grasp of even a long-term Lemonheads fan such as myself. It would be tempting to say that everything you could ever need by The Lemonheads is here. Great swathes of the nineteen tracks presented are sourced from their classic "It's A Shame About Ray" and "Come On Feel The Lemonheads" platters. Their dire karaoke cover of Simon And Garfunkel's "Mrs Robinson" is here, as feared, but the fleet-footed semi-acoustic janglings of "Confetti", "Rudderless" and "Being Around" more than compensate, as well as candyfloss-flavoured flirtings with the darker side such as "My Drug Buddy". Even the smattering of selections from their last, lesser album "Car Button Cloth" seem to have caught that collection's better side. The Lemonheads finest three minutes, the dusty, sapped melancholia of "Ride With Me" also sneaks in, as a version from the "Favorite Spanish Dishes" EP. A few outtakes from the "Come On Feel The Lemonheads" sessions and a sweet Rainer Ptacek (no, me neither) cover, "Rudy With A Flashlight", from a tribute album, round out a consistently entertaining package.

But…as a one-stop Lemonheads shop "The Atlantic Years", as its title admits, doesn't tell the whole story. A few excerpts from their debut Atlantic outing, "Lovey", would have been welcome - how about "Stove", as fine as any of the bouncy numbers included here, or the peerless Gram Parsons cover "Brass Buttons", which really shows where Evan's at? A mopping up of non-album cover singles recorded for the label - "Different Drum", "Gonna Get Along Without Ya Now", "Balancing Acts" - couldn’t hurt. Or even something from the three albums the band released in the late 80s, just to counter the prevailing impression that it was always jangle and harmony around here. Such omissions are especially galling given the fact that there's over 20 minutes of wasted space on this disc.

Nevertheless, for anybody other than a "Great Rock Discography"-hugging completist, "The Best Of The Lemonheads The Atlantic Years" undoubtedly looks, smells and tastes like what it says on the tin, and if you like the band you won't be able to stop yourself enjoying it.

LEMONHEADS Creator (Taaang!)

LEMONHEADS Lick (Taang!)

"Creator" is the second Lemonheads album, a defiantly independent production dating from 1988, way before Evan Dando became posterboy extraordinaire, if you can remember the time when he was. Thirteen tracks and thirty minutes flash past in a good-natured punk/metal/Byrdsian sprawl, far rougher and rawer than the material that would bring them brief fame and fortune in the early 90s, but recognisably the same band nevertheless. Here be Black Sabbath tributes (the tolling bell that opens the Emily Dickinson-dedicated "Burying Ground" sounds strangely familiar, and Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill receive a shout-out in the Thank Yous), unsquare covers (Kiss' "Plaster Caster" and Charlie Manson's ironically titled "Your Home Is Where You're Happy") and great swathes of amiable jangling. "Clang Bang Clang" later resurfaced on their Atlantic debut retitled "Left For Dead", whilst "Two Weeks In Another Town" donated its name to one of the band's video anthologies, and the likes of "Falling", "Sunday" and especially the mellow "Postcard" demonstrate the warm-hearted melodies you might expect of the brand. "Creator" isn't a brilliant album, especially compared with what would later emerge from the Dando camp, but it's good enough. And as it says on the labels, variously, "All songs ă Lemonheads or you go to jail, buddy", and "All songs ă Lemonheads unless you wanna law suit, pal."

"Lick" followed the next year, and whilst many of its eleven tracks plug away at the same old thrashy noise that renders swathes of its predecessor less than inviting there are further developments towards the Lemonheads sound we would come to know in the future. Specifically, there are moments when acoustics and electrics clash on the same tracks, rather than being kept strictly segregated. Opener "Mallo Cup" is one of the album's highlights, with a heart-tugging push-pull of a melody, with "A Circle Of One" not far behind in the loveliness stakes. Of the old school designs the highlight has to be the closing "Ever": punk and disorderly though it may be, beneath the distortion there's a sweet paean to commitment that nods towards "When I'm Sixty-Four". Elsewhere the cover of Suzanne Vega's "Luka" that was promised but not delivered on the sleeve of "Creator" is here, but it's more notable for being a cover of Suzanne Vega's "Luka" than for any innate musical merit it may or may not posses. Next time around Dando and his ever-shifting coterie would have major label money to invest, leaving the crashy buzzsaw rock of their Taang! period work behind forever, but these albums still stand as a pleasant reminder of the band's beginnings.

THE LEMONHEADS / MEREDITH SHELDON / AIRSHIP The Ritz, Manchester 6 December 2011

 

Airship start off like a glam rock Gomez, in sound if not in style, but soon mutate into a modern indie distillation (or, more likely, dilution) of mid-80s Cure  and New Order.

 

Meredith Sheldon arrives dressed in shorts and high-heeled boots, and then proceeds to belt out the kind of songs that make a boy feel guilty for noticing this, steeped in the kind of interpersonal politics reminiscent of PJ Harvey 20 years ago. But when you (or I) are thinking uncharitable thoughts there she goes and covers Big Star’s “Kangaroo” (i.e. one of my favourite songs on my favourite album) and, well, there it is; instant adoration.

 

Evan Dando takes to the stage alone and rattles through “Being Around”, which isn’t on the programme, before his two accomplices arrive and the trio lock into “Rockin’ Stroll”, and, bash bash bash, we’re off on the advertised rendition of that slender titan of the Lemonheads catalogue, the 1992 album “It’s A Shame About Ray”. There are just two modes tonight, full-throttling through the songs as a trio or Evan alone, which is effectively the same thing but slightly quieter. Not that it isn’t good - in fact, tonight is a celebration of the rich seam of songwriting brilliance mined by Dando and collaborators between “Lovey” (1990) and “Car Button Cloth” (1996) - even if the manner of execution tramples the subtleties out of these often great songs and the stagecraft is so low key that I’m frequently distracted by footage of the English motorway system playing above the stage. It’s difficult to argue with a 30 song setlist that, aside from the main feature, includes delights like “Stove”, “The Outdoor Type” and the shivery brilliant “Ride With Me”. As a performance, though, it’s merely alright, and though I wouldn’t hesitate to see them again it’d be more for the songs rather than the musical prowess with which they deliver them.

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