Act: The Lemonheads
Venue: SWG3,Galvanizers, Glasgow
Date: 9th February 2019
“Everyone likes The Lemonheads, but I’ve never met anyone who would call them their favourite band!”
This is the biggest Lemonheads fan I know, lamenting and musing, as we follow quite a crowd down the long, dark, street, past the railway bridge and arches at Eastvale Place, to the venue becoming the most regular pitch for gigs for me these days. It’s a lot like going to a football match ,walking down to a gig at the SWG3 – The 78 seems like the last bar for a mile, leaving nothing but soulless student accommodation in it’s wake, and beyond that a bit of a wasteland. It’s obvious the closer you get that everyone walking beside you is going to a gig; different bands bring with them different style uniforms and there’s expectation and camaraderie in the air!
The closer we get to the red brick warehouse, decorated with colourful murals, we begin to raise our eyebrows at each other as we notice we are walking side by side with a very young crowd, dressed in tracksuit tops and snazzy trainers! The mystery, as to who exactly a Lemonheads fan is, deepens! I had imagined old ‘grungers’ who have now matured and settled down, perhaps couples for whom they were ‘their band’ and I expected more cardigans, ripped jeans and flannel shirts! SWG3 has at least five different venue spaces and tonight there appear to be three gigs taking place here, hence the home and away supporters, if you will! At the doors we are split into different queues and most of the youngsters go upstairs to see electro-pop group, Kero Kero Bonito. Mystery solved..sort of (more of which later)!
The Lemonheads are playing in the biggest of the rooms – named Galvanizers – a huge hanger, it’s roof way off in the stars, crisscrossed with iron girders; it has the spacey echo of a cathedral and there’s enough room to run, unimpeded to the front (even after we waited ages at the bar, stationed in the more frequently used ‘TV Studio’ space) to be altar-side,up close with the Evan Dando acolytes! A steady stream of well-dressed women, of varying ages, gradually begin to appear all around us, drawn by a fondness for the erstwhile indie heartthrob, and many loudly ask questions about whether he’s aged well (he was recently sighted with a straggly beard looking worse for wear apparently!) There are plenty of cute, canoodling couples around but there’s also a huge, bald,leather clad fella, right front and centre, who my pals exclaim at the same time looks like he wouldn’t be out of place on ‘Danny Dyer’s Deadliest Men’ programme! So, yes, still no closer to what a typical Lemonheads fan looks like!
After a painstaking sound set up, for the minimal kit onstage, we notice a deep, calming scent begin to waft through the room – incense cones have been lit and placed around the stage! I don’t know if this is the bands own touch, to calm anxious types or to mask those unpleasant gig smells more prevalent since the smoking ban, never mind – it works for me – and it musk continues to filter through the air throughout the gig, adding to the ‘industrial meets holy’ feel!
The band finally appear, in a low key manner, almost shuffling onstage, but to a rapturous welcome. As soon as the guitars are struck that distinctive sound, which splices their roots as a hardcore band (detuned, minor chords) with a melodious, countryish jangle, fills the air. I am the fussiest of my friends about sound mixes at gigs and so I have to mention that the long wait was worth it – the sound is perfectly balanced. A fuzzy blanket of harmonies with slightly jagged edges, dulled by the low melancholy of Dando’s louche drawl, envelopes us. The tunes have enough groove to dance to and the drums are much more rocking than you’d get in a lo-fi indie band (Dinosaur Jnr’s Murph was once on drums) I am surprised at how heavy the sound is and yet it’s also sweet and uplifting.
The set tonight includes two encores and an acoustic set in the middle, before which Dando requests that a bottle of whisky be brought to the stage for him to swig from! The Lemonheads have had so many members over the years but it really is just Evan now. The set list he’s compiled for tonight reveals itself like a scrapbook of his musical heroes, co-writers and influences, all pasted with his own trademark blend, holding it all together.
The Lemonheads’ biggest hit was their cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs Robinson of course and although we don’t hear that tonight, as a band who were always fond of a well chosen and reworked cover, and have just released their second album of cover versions (Varshons 2), the set is peppered with Dando making other people’s songs sound like his own!
Amongst the latest reworkings are Nick Cave’s Straight to You, Gram Parsons I Just Can’t Take It Anymore and Streets of Baltimore and Yo La Tengo’s Can’t Forget. Then there’s the reinterpretations of the Australian band, Smudge’s, songs, which Dando made his own early in his career – the tongue-in-cheek humour of Outdoor Type, ushers in one of many fine sing-a longs:
“I can’t go away with you on a rock-climbing weekend / What if something’s on TV and it’s never shown again!”
But the highlight of the set for the Glasgow audience has to be when Dando does a slightly slowed down and country-spun take on local heroes, Teenage Fanclub’s, almost hymnal, Ain’t That Enough.
If I Could Talk I’d Tell You (co-written with Eugene Kelly of the Vaselines, another nod to Glasgow’s connections to the American grunge scene of the 90’s ) and Into Your Arms come as the last song in the set and last song of the first encore, respectively, and epitomise what is so timeless about Dando’s songcraft. He takes the most delicate structures, the most whisperingly sensitive of lyrics and turns them into songs with the pop charm and punch of a 60’s beat combo (even his way of playing his guitar tonight – higher than usual, stooped at the microphone, turning his head to wink and smile at the crowd from beneath a curtain of fringe reminds me of The Beatles!)
Evan doesn’t speak much during the set, he remains somewhat of an enigma, a contradiction; a smile turns to an introspective thousand yard glare as he vanishes into the instrument he plays with such creativity and assurance. An alternative, yet a true guitar hero.
But if we are not any nearer, after all these years, to figuring Mr. Dando out, are we any nearer to finding a typical Lemonheads fan? I don’t think so! Dando’s vision and the many musicians he’s played with over the years takes in so much alternative musical history, yet is still very much part of the sound of guitar music in the 90’s. With that era making a comeback in fashion now, The Lemonheads have picked the right time to come back – joining fans old and new, heavy rock fans to country fans! Who knows – perhaps an album of original music, which would be the first since 2006,will follow Varshons 2! The time is right!
This was the first time I’d seen The Lemonheads live. I was one of those casual fans, always liking the group when they appeared on compilations but never so much as buying an album, to my shame! A quick glance at the gigs on offer in Glasgow on the same night (The Lemonheads topped them all in my view) and a video from 2014 of Evan Dando duetting with Courtney Barnett on Being Around (proving he’s as down with new indie music as ever), and I made the choice to see The Lemonheads as they still seemed important. The lyrics to Being Around include:
“If I was a booger, would you blow your nose?
Would you keep it? would you eat it?
I’m just tryin’ to give myself a reason, for being around.”
Written in 1992, it’s the bridge between The Velvet Underground and The Mouldy Peaches!
Evan Dando’s voice, songwriting and guitar playing is among the canon of truly original indie-pop. The massive, loyal and overjoyed crowd tonight showed that, at times, an enduring indie-visionary like Dando, along with a bit of a nostalgia-lust, can trump a million up and coming bands’ gigs. Everyone likes a classic, and tonight, together, we don’t need to feel guilty about that; the classics can still feel fresh!
The Great Big No
It’s a Shame About Ray
Abandoned (Lucinda Williams cover)
Left for Dead
Tenderfoot (Smudge cover)
My Idea (Chris Brokaw cover)
It Looks Like You
I Just Can’t Take it Anymore (Gram Parsons cover)
My Drug Buddy
The Outdoor Type (Smudge cover)
Why Do You Do This To Yourself?
Ride With Me
Streets of Baltimore (Gram Parsons/ Glasser Brothers cover)
Aint That Enough (Teenage Fanclub cover)
The Moon’s a Balloon (Eugenius cover)
Skulls (Misfits cover)
Big Gay Heart
Straight to You (Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds cover)
Hannah and Gaby
If I Could Talk I’d Tell You
Can’t Forgot (Yo La Tengo cover)
Into Your Arms
Babaganoj (Smudge cover)
Frank Mills (Galt McDermott cover)