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THE LEMONHEADS (Birmingham Carling Academy, May 15)

30-04-2007

Lemonheads singer Evan Dando was the star of grunge who just wasn’t grungey enough to follow Kurt Cobain to international stardom - and eternal oblivion. Which is good news for Paul Samuels who’ll get to see him in action again.

Evan Dando's band The Lemonheads went from Boston schoolboy Husker Du soundalikes to a major label brush with early 90's global hugeness. With his girl friendly surfer looks, ear friendly hooks and some cleverly written songs about dumb subjects Evan Dando had it all...And friends like Oasis, Michael Hutchence and Helena Christiansen.

Boys wanted to be him, girls wanted to be with him and drug dealers wanted to be a phone call away. Scientists are still pondering why The Lemonheads never became bigger, but some of the brighter boffins have proposed the theory that it was Dando himself who blew it.

Evan Dando is the only original and constant member of The Lemonheads, and even he got so sick of his own band that that he put out a solo album in 1993 and sang with the reformed MC5 in 1994. He's back as a Lemonhead now though and I'm definitely ready for some stoner Punky Country slackness.

The original line up with Dando and Ben Deily recorded their debut ep, Laughing All The Way To The Cleaners, the day after their High School Graduation and then released it on their own Huh-Bag label.

Subsequent recordings Hate Your Friends, Creator and Lick were all released on local Boston label Taang! The records show a gradual shifting away from the Punky beginnings but also show a power struggle within the band with Deily eventually leaving. Deily's final album Lick has a Power Pop version of Suzanne Vega's Luka. - The first of many quirky cover version which Dando would perform.

Things were getting more interesting though as The Lemonheads (now effectively Dando) signed to Atlantic and released Lovey. It's got the Gram Parson's cover Brass Buttons and Stove which is a song about preferring the old stove to the new one. Great song but honestly it's not as deep as it sounds.

The thing with Dando is that he could never sustain the song writing himself, he always needed people around him...hanging on to them was a different matter though, as The Lemonheads was a revolving door for musicians. Drummer Mark "Budola" Newman was sacked and then unwittingly answered an advert for his old job.

A 1991 tour brought Evan to Australia, where he met Tom Morgan and Nic Dalton who would all contribute songs up to the present day.

The quality of the songs from this period, the distinctive sound and the interplay between Dando's languid drawl and Juliana Hatfield's wide eyed teen movie girl backing vocals make 1992's It's A Shame About Ray the definitive Lemonheads album.

If Nirvana were the bad drugs, self loathing and bellyaching sound of the discontented suburbs, then It's A Shame About Ray was the amiably stoned goofy dreamboat singing songs like Ceiling Fan In My Spoon and My Drug Buddy.

It's about the minutiae of the suburbs - the comfortably off and the comfortably numb - and it steers a path from the gleeful Alison's Starting To Happen (Alison's getting a mohawk, Alison's getting her tits pierced") to the lethargy of My Drug Buddy ("Is this the same stuff we got yesterday?").

Lets face it Kids, his records were great but, you wouldn't want to live in Kurt Cobain's house...and actually I don't want to listen to Nirvana records that often either. I play It's A Shame about Ray a lot though.

I like the actual sound of the album. It's just bass, guitar and drums with the occasional keyboards, but the chords sound unusual and the bass lines often use 2 or 3 note chords for a fat bottomed sound. (Right Sir Fred?)

Rockin' Stroll is a great opener with a flurry of guitar notes bouncing off big square chords like a downhill skier who can't stop hitting the poles.

The album is ludicrously short, 10 tracks including the cover of Frank Mills from the musical Hair. Later it got reissued with additional track Mrs Robinson, which is still a bit of a comedy cover but I do like the guitar thwacks in the middle and Dando's pronunciation of "cupcakes"

So everything was geared up then for The Lemonheads to become massive with the release of Come On Feel The Lemonheads in 1993...well in one sense they did.

Dando became a staple of gossip columns with increasingly erratic behaviour, and the inevitable combination of drink, drugs and Courtney Love. Although there are some good songs on the album, there's more filler and some dubious/infuriating/down right ropey old toss like Jello Fund. As an opening track it's hard to beat the sweet and brief power pop of The Great Big No and the single Into Your Arms but tracks like Being Around end up sounding too lightweight. "If I was a booger would you blow your nose?"

Big Gay Heart was Dando's acoustic Country Pop strum-a-long single. During 93 and 94 he'd turn up every where to sing it....which was part of the problem. He was usually trolleyed and in a PR masterstroke he announced that he couldn't sing for 2 weeks because of the amount of crack he'd smoked. He was booed off stage at Glastonbury after turning up hours late...with his acoustic.

Atlantic dropped him after the 1996 album Car Button Cloth. I'd already lost interest. I think he missed their money more than mine though.

The solo album (although lets face it ...all his records are solo albums with additional musicians and songs from various sources) Baby I'm Bored came out in 1993 and was a definite return to form. More country pop flavoured than previous material but with some strong songs and strong vocal performances, if that's not a contradiction in terms for Stoner Pop

The standout track is It Looks Like You which is acoustic driven bruised Country Pop with the excellent line "I can't for the love of Jehovah, Comprehend why you knock at my door".

I also can't fail to like a song that calls itself The Same Thing You Thought Hard About Is The Same Part I Can Live Without.

After the bizarre spectacle of him fronting the MC5 he released an album last year simply called The Lemonheads. The single Become The Enemy is a really good song.

The album was produced by Bill Stevenson (Descendents, Black Flag) who also contributed some songs, with others coming from Tom Morgan (Dando's Australian gold mine). The thoroughly back on form J Mascis plays on 2 tracks.

It's not all old American Punk players though as Garth Hudson from The Band also crops up on one track. They met at a Halloween reading of Edgar Allen Poe poems. Well that's one way of avoiding Oasis and Courtney Love.

I'm glad he's back; and it sounds like he's interested again. However as the famously Pretty and Vacant Dando struggled simultaneously to walk, talk and hold onto his ipod during a phone interview with the radiofreecanuckistan blog he revealed he's got a reason to be back.

"I took 2 long breaks. One from 94 to 96 and then another from 97 to 2000. I was basically spending tons of money and living it up. Then I got close enough to the bottom of my bank account again to be motivated. It's weird, money is bad for me. I'm by nature a lazy person. If I have tons of money in the bank, I just want to go skiing or bird watching or take a nap. It's good when you need to work again"

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