Live review: The Lemonheads | The Zoo, 11 December

 

A solid and sweaty crowd of largely 40 somethings were on-hand to witness the return to Brisbane of grunge-smeared 90’s alt-pop vagabonds The Lemonheads, for many years now essentially the vehicle for the wayward song writing genius of Evan Dando.

A half hour late entrance on a balmy Wednesday evening does little to dispel his somewhat lackadaisical reputation, but all is forgiven when Dando, guitar in hand, and his pair of fellow Lemonheads for the night, make their belated entrance and proceed to crank out the template for tonight’s set, a raw and scuffed-up take on a host of some the band’s finest songs from Dando’s 90’s apex.

The rhythm section, a bassist and highly energetic drummer who also doubled as backing vocalist, were left shrouded in mystery for the duration of tonight’s performance, while our main protagonist is still largely channelling his swoon inducing prime period look, all lean, lanky limbed and foppy haired, albeit with a more weathered exterior. With a song writing canon as deep as Dando’s, set highlights abound from the get-go, with early high watermarks including ‘It’s About Time’, ‘Hospital’ and ‘The Turnpike Down’.

Dando’s strong Australian affiliations are never too far away, with tonight’s set featuring a handful of his much-loved Smudge covers, including a sped up, bare knuckled version of ‘Tenderfoot’. Dando’s own unique, casually tossed off brilliance in the song writing stakes is what holds the inherent raggedness of tonight set together – the quick fire 1-2-3 salvo of ‘It’s Shame About Ray’, ‘Bit Part’ and Alison’s Starting To Happen’ galvanising the crowd in fits of joyous nostalgia.

The expected solo acoustic interlude appears about two thirds of the way through, with a warm hearted run through of ‘Being Around’ one of the highlights from this portion of the set. An impromptu ‘happy birthday’ randomly appears, as does another pair of Smudge numbers– this time in the form of ‘The Outdoor Type’ (which many would assume was a Lemonheads original, such is the ownership that Dando has taken of the track over the years) as well as the surprise appearance of the wonderful ‘Divan’.

Another highlight is lesser known but no less impressive number ‘Stove’, a cracking grunge-pop ditty (and perhaps the only song ever written in homage to said kitchen feature), which once again displays Dando’s ample gifts for the art of melodic crunch.

The encore, which kicked into gear after a few false starts, featured the funked up slow grind of ‘Rick James Style’, the pleasingly included alter-ego of grunge-pop belter ‘Style’ (and which was padded out with guest accompaniment from the keyboard player of New York support act The Restless Age.)

Whether it was a case of ragged glory or ragged gory may depend on your tolerance for Dando’s in the moment, teetering on the edge state of being. One thing was certain though, the quality of the songs on display, both original and his always judicially selected covers, was enough on it’s own to make this a gig worth savouring.

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