Friday evening outside in Kentish Town. The pubs are heaving with dressed-down thirty- and forty-somethings, but we press on past them in an effort to catch the euro friendly 747s in their support slot
They start off with a punch, then settle into the swooping melodies of their recent single Death of a Star, harmonising excellently. The sound is a little drum heavy (something that’s also noticeable when the Lemonheads come on) and tends to drown out the guitars, but it’s a small quibble. In fact, their vocals sound much more animated and rich than on record.
The jerky post-punk Anxiety has its corners smoothed off when delivered live, and then they slide into some of the Small Faces-influenced material on their new album, including the charming Nature’s Alibi, before rounding the too-brief set off with a stomping version of Night and Day.
Powerful, coherent, and on time? Who’s that guy on stage with The Lemonheads? Not the Evan Dando his fans know and dread, that’s for sure. Scuttling up to the already crowded balcony, the amount of light shining off patches of thinning hair on the packed heads below suggests that while they can still draw an audience after ten years away, The Lemonheads are a nostalgia act.
The original lineup offered a mix of nihilism and heroin chic but the band has always been lead singer Evan Dando, who rapidly became the cleaner, prettier face of grunge for people who found Kurt Cobain a bit frightening.
Although he’s looked scrawny and worn in recent publicity shots, onstage Dando appears powerful and mean. The man has star quality and there’s no denying that as he commands the stage from the very first chords. He barely moves a step, pounding out the opener Down About It and moving swiftly on to Tenderfoot, his voice raspy and strong.
Gone are the quirky, almost camp outfits in favour of an all black ensemble with long floppy hair to shield his face during those intense guitar moments of which there are plenty.
With Pieces drummer Devon Ashley, and his bandmate Vess Ruhtenberg making up the rest of the live band, the resulting sound is gratifyingly straightforward as they bolted through no less than 19 songs, whipping up favourites Ride With Me and It’s A Shame About Ray, before retiring to leave Dando to deliver a mini-acoustic set.
Around me everyone was lapping it up, singing along and waving their arms – dangerously close to breaking out the lighters. I felt the only one immune to his gentler, alt. country sound. I hung on hoping each track would be the last, unmoved even by a Gram Parsons cover Why Do You Do This To Yourself.
The reward for patience was a great rendition of My Drug Buddy, but two tracks later its back to dreary acoustic strumming for the seven – yes seven – song encore, which faded into one long drone.
I may have only enjoyed half the music, but there were still more songs than many bands would fit into their set. The new look Lemonheads are enjoying themselves and out to give their fans a great show and they will be responding in kind.