LIVE REVIEW: The Lemonheads (Manchester O2 Ritz)

There is a conundrum at the heart of the latest Lemonheads tour which promises to give people all of It’s a Shame About Ray, and it can best be expressed by the following statement: a lot more people bought It’s a Shame About Ray than either Varshons 1 or 2.

The Ritz feels about three times capacity, with people crammed into every nook and cranny. When Evan Dando takes to the stage, just him and his acoustic guitar, there is an outpouring of affectionate applause, and the odd singalong as he rattles through a few favourites (‘Ride with me’, ‘Different Drum’, ‘Being Around’), albeit singalongs accompanied by a lot of talking. Just when you sense the tolerance of the nostalgia crowd is starting to be tested, Dando is joined by bass and drums and the three of them race through It’s a Shame About Ray.

From the fizzy riff that opens ‘Rockin’ Stroll’ through the electrified versions of both ‘Drug Buddy’ and ‘Hannah & Gabi’, all the way to the rafter-shaking singalong that accompanied Frank Mills, it’s a faultless 36 minutes or so of power pop. According to Twitter the next day, there were people who were annoyed by the lack of ‘Mrs Robinson’ but, you know what? ‘Mrs Robinson’ wasn’t on the original It’s a Shame About Ray – it was stuck on later so yah boo sucks to all of you.

After Ray is done, we get a bunch more of the hits (including ‘Down About It’, ‘Hospital’ and the always lovely ‘Great Big No’), together with a bunch of cover versions (we think we spotted Big Star’s ‘The Ballad of El Goodo’ and ‘Skull’ by Misfits, among others), but there is a tension in the room between those people who only bought Ray and don’t know other stuff and those people for whom the presence of Hard Drive justifies the ticket price alone. When Dando leaves the stage without an encore (despite the fact that they must have played thirty plus songs), there is general mystification and the odd bit of booing.

It is, like we say, something of a conundrum and only Dando himself can solve it really. Does he want the rafter bursting crowds who only want It’s a Shame About Ray or does he just tour as Lemonheads, play whatever he likes and fill venues with people who like Lemonheads, irrespective of whatever era Lemonheads we are talking about? For us, it was a great gig, they played well, we heard some songs we’d never heard live before (big yay to ‘Different Drum’) and we wish Dando nothing but well. If he can just get himself together enough to put out a whole album of new material, we’ll be forever grateful.

Words by Pete Wild.

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