The O2 Arena, that amalgam of airport terminal and live venue that gave a second life to the Millennium Dome, is absolutely teeming tonight. There are people everywhere you look, abuzz with spirited chatter as they swarm into and out of the bars and restaurants that surround this Brobdingnagian shrine to the live spectacular.
At first, it’s truly encouraging to see that good old indie rock is in such fine health, that all of these folk have turned out to recrown Evan Dando the king of effortlessly affable slacker-pop. Slowly, though, it dawns that some, if not most, may actually be here for the residency of the immensely popular Michael McIntyre. It’s a pity: they missed a great show.
On the final stop of a short UK tour – their first for three years – The Lemonheads have been joined for this visit to Indigo2, the 2,000 capacity mollusc on the main arena’s hull, by the resurgent Sebadoh. The trio pulled off the remarkable feat of making the headliners appear impossibly well-drilled in comparison as they lurched joyously from Beauty Of The Ride through to Brand New Love, Lou Barlow increasingly resembling an alt-rock Jerry Garcia and the backwards-capped Jason Loewenstein still surprisingly not a playable character in the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games.
At not far off 50, Evan Dando still radiates boy-next-door charisma through his shaggy locks, and the band tear through opening selections from Car Button Cloth (1996) and 1993’s Come On Feel The Lemonheads: Hospital and Down About It suit the pacier approach, while It’s About Time and a focused, thundering Style (“I don’t wanna get high, But I don’t wanna not get high”), no less of a tortured thrash post-rehab, are light and shade.
In this latest iteration, Dando is joined by Juliana Hatfield Three drummer Todd Philips, Codeine’s Chris Brokaw on second guitar and the ebullient Jen Turner, who variously pogoes, pounds her bass and clambers up the drum riser. Dando nicknames her ‘Jimmy Page’ at one point, and it’s palpable just how much of ‘the rock’ the full band brings to their parts of the set.
For around a third of the marathon 28 songs, though, Dando is alone or joined by just Brokaw. There are affecting takes on Being Around and the camping-phobic hymn The Outdoor Type along with solo material, a highlight in the shape of Ride With Me from major-label début Lovey and some well-selected covers: an a cappella Frank Mills (from counterculture musical Hair) is a hit with the word-perfect crowd.
Its familiarity is of course due to their version’s inclusion on the near-perfect It’s A Shame About Ray, and once the band return to the stage the remainder of the set leans heavily on the 1992 album, barely making room amid the spirited jangle of Confetti, Rudderless and The Turnpike Down for The Great Big No and a cracked, trebly Break Me.
Although Dando hints before a spirited Stove that they’ll be staying in London to work on a new album, he and The Lemonheads came to us tonight with no new product to push, as if needing only to prove that their easy-going charm never went away, even through the dark, wayward years of voice-shredding drug abuse.
The faithful are clearly delighted to have them back, and after “one last song” becomes three, the effervescent Bit Part and Alison’s Starting To Happen settling into a bright, wistful If I Could Talk I’d Tell You, Dando ambles amiably off stage and we’re turned, grinning, out into the night, once more to fight our way through McIntyre’s masses.