Thursday, 1 December 2011

834 THE LEMONHEADS, Meredith Sheldon, Netherlands, Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms, Wednesday 30 November 2011

It’s been a long 4 ½ years since I’ve last crossed paths with Evan Dando, a man who still remains one of my all-time musical icons. My oldest son, Evan, will attest to that for all his life... However, an indifferent showing in Bristol in October 2006, followed by the awful Cardiff car-crash that was gig 730, last time out in May 2007, persuaded me pretty much not to allow Evan an opportunity to disappoint me once again. However, this tour intrigued me enough to shell out on tix, given that the set’s centrepiece would be a full rendition of “It’s A Shame About Ray”, The Lemonheads’ 1992 career-defining post-grunge/alt-country/slacker collision masterpiece. Evan couldn’t really get that far wrong, particularly when this time, he was also reported to be backed up by old Boston friend Josh Lattanzi on bass, and by American Hi-Fi drummer (and, lest we forget, former Sky Heroes sticksman) Brian Nolan, rather than the less competent back rows of The Pieces, to exponentially increase the level of musicianship on show. Could he?

So, Tim and Tracey picked me up at 20 to 7, then we had a wild and windy drive down the well trodden (albeit not recently) route to Pompey, unfortunately getting a little lost around Fratton, but eventually squeezing into a tight parking space just behind the venue for 20 past 8. Tix sorted, we scooted into the venue, sold out but quiet early doors, in time for painfully young first support Netherlands. Unfortunately some occasionally chiming guitar and booming bass drum couldn’t lift their material above Coldplay-esque plodding dull mulch.

Saw a familiar face poke out of the backstage entrance; not Josh as expected, but American Hi-Fi bassist Drew Parsons! Popped over and exchanged warm greetings, then spent 10 minutes or so chatting and catching up with the affable Mr. Parsons, apparently a late replacement for Josh, also hearing about the Hi-Fi’s tentative plans to return to the UK next year. Wow! It was a real pleasure to catch up with Drew again, all the more so for being unexpected, and suddenly I was ridiculously excited at the prospect of the show. American Hi-Fi, on their day, are one of the most incendiary “live” bands I’ve seen, so the thought of the Hi-Fi rhythm section backing Evan was mouthwatering, particularly as Drew promised he and Brian were going to, “rock it tonight!”

But first, we had main support Meredith Sheldon. Recommended by Drew, she played a solo set of Juliana Hatfield-lite strumalong alt-college pop angst which was diverting but oddly dated, probably a whole bunch better on record, but drifted a little and was also overlong, bumping us up to 10 to 10, by which time the place was rammed and anticipatory.

In pretty short order thereafter, Evan Dando took the stage alone, picking up a guitar and powering through a messy solo “Being Around”. The Hi-Fi boys then joined him, for the “Shame About Ray” run-through in order, which although being cheered to the rafters, took some time to really soar. An odd crowd, this, enthusiastic yet static, and initially Evan seemed to be dialling it in, seemingly a little fried and droney, admittedly suffering with some poor muffled vocal sound, but also swathing some of the “Ray” material in unnecessary riffery when a delicate touch was better called for. Drew and Brian nevertheless pulled a stalwart shift behind him, their chemistry undeniable, their dynamism and power exemplary, and “Rudderless” was an early and buoyant highlight. At this point Evan was clearly being carried by his band and the strength of this classic material, but “Alison’s Starting To Happen” finally saw some rocking, as I piled down the front, pitching up stage right two rows back. An unexpectedly fine “Kitchen” made way for an inclusive, singalong “Frank Mills”, and suddenly we saw a totally different Evan.

The “Ray” album now dispensed with in short order, Evan then delivered a solo vignette commencing with a gentle “Outdoor Type”, which culminated in almost a jig-along finish, and finally we saw the best of his talent and delicious dark baritone. A touching solo “All My Life” and “Why Do You Do This To Yourself?” preceded a short break, after which Evan and the boys came out all guns blazing with a superb “Down About It”. Indeed, this second set section seemed more relaxed, the set-list reworked on the fly as Evan, again seeming to play for an audience of one, nevertheless put more commitment into his performance. A titanic and incendiary “Stove” was easily the set highlight, fairly bristling with power and dynamism, before ”If I Could Talk I’d Tell You” rounded the set off on an upbeat note. By this time I was hoping to catch Drew’s eye to blag a set-list, but there was no need, as, whilst Evan lengthened the final riff, Drew unmoored his list from the floor and handed it over to me! Result!

We hit the road promptly then, enduring a difficult journey back in nasty conditions and getting home at 1 (yikes!). This was a late, but ultimately worthwhile one; the usual variable performance from Evan, lacking the passion of old but at his best personally during his solo numbers. However overall this was a mighty improvement over the last couple of “Lemonheads” shows, lifted by a superb rhythm section as good and powerful as any Lemonheads line-up. Great to see Drew again. And now I can’t wait for the Hi-Fi to come over next year…!

1 comment:

  1. Hey David

    Found your blog this morning while searching China Drum reviews, and have been hooked all day. Great gig reviews and a great story -I was so excited when you and Rach got hitched!

    I was also at this gig and agree with your review, I thought Frank Mills was the moment the mood changed. A great gig, even if Evan was phoning it in for the first half.