The Lemonheads at The 1865, Southampton 12.10.2022 with Bass Drum of Death supporting
This was an extraordinary evening – possibly the most disappointing gig I have ever been to in over 40 years of gig-going. I wasn’t annoyed; it was just so sad to witness the flawed talent and waste of it all. I didn’t want to leave however awful it got – I had to see it out and make sure there wasn’t one last flurry of brilliance….there wasn’t. No explanations and no excuses. Just a capitulation to the situation as Evan Dando, who IS The Lemonheads, disappeared off stage shortly after a pathetic bit of solo drumming and slurring in front an increasingly bemused audience.
Although a quarter or more of the audience had left by the end, most if the remaining fans had been patient and lovingly supportive, willing improvement and prepared to cut the man some slack – some slack it was mind! We are all aware Dando has had some substance abuse problems over the years but tonight he seemed to be ill, exhausted, frustrated, troubled by technical problems as well as being off his, once beautiful, face.
I was here with my old mate Chris (CMe) – he’s not old but I’ve known him a long time 😉. We went to see The Lemonheads first time back in June 1994 at something called The Que Club, in Birmingham, in what was the Central Methodist Hall on Corporation Street. I still have my ticket stub.
We remembered drinking cups of tea bought from the dated refreshment room at that odd venue – we were both driving that night – we felt like the oldest people there by about 10 years and girls there to swoon at Evan Dando were being picked up later by their waiting parents afterwards. We felt old then and now it’s 28 years later!
A hazier recollection was our trip to The Lemonheads’ 1994 Reading Festival appearance. We drove down for the day from Coventry, something we did for several years to that Festival.
It’s a Shame About Ray and Come on Feel the Lemonheads were the albums I had back then – I’ve been adding some vinyl more recently including a good 2006 eponymous album which I had been unaware of. ‘Ray’ was the biggy though, that everyone liked and hence some excitement about seeing it performed in full tonight – excitement that was soon dampened, severely.
(Evan Dando appears on Later with Jools Holland back in 1994: Being Around.)
The Lemonheads were originally from Boston and a significant part of the 90s grunge boom, but in a very tuneful and mellow poppy part of it. It was always about Evan Dando, his guitar, his voice, his tunes and his hair. The line-up has changed regularly over the years and it is only Dando who has survived – Dando effectively IS The Lemonheads.
Back to tonight and we missed the first band on, just caught the end as I explored the balcony up from the rear bar – I’d never seen that balcony area open to all on previous visits. (Read my venue blog on The 1865 for more details on this location.)
The main support, Bass Drum of Death, originally from Mississippi but started out in New York, were pretty good. Just two guitars and a drummer – no bass. They’ve had four albums (2011-18). ‘Alternative rock’ that rumbled along well.
After a bit of hanging around – 20 minutes after the posted timings – Evan Dando appeared in an orange puffa jacket, hood up, which he took off and threw into the audience once up on the stage. It was instantly apparent all was not well.
His acoustic guitar had some lead connection problems. He burbled his technical frustrations – assistance slow to appear – and gave up after several false starts and picked up his electric one. It wasn’t the equipment though: the voice was already gone. Deep notes only were happening and any attempt to lift it and he croaked and lost it.
The first solo section exposed every flaw – you can’t hide when it’s one man and a guitar and no backing or looping tricks. The Outdoor Type was nearly there and the amusing lyrics audible but we knew we were in trouble early on.
The next section was the It’s A Shame About Ray album in full, solo. So recognisable and nostalgic that the guitar did carry him to an extent but songs ran into each other, sometimes curtailed and slurred and croaky throughout. (Title track live captured on YouTube in case you doubt my judgement.) He asked if anyone knew the words to Alison‘s Starting to Happen well enough to join him onstage. Some brave woman did and gave it a go.
Next the band came on for their bit – six or so songs. A drummer and a bassist. They looked nervous. They knew this ship was going down. I understand there was another guitarist earlier on the tour – this is the last night – but he must have jumped overboard early.
The band helped a bit. At least we got some tunes going and there was some minimal vocal assistance from the bassist. They couldn’t get off fast enough when the time came though.
This left Dando to the face the horror of another solo section. Usually I pop some notes in my phone on songs played etc but all that was notable and memorable was being witness to this car crash of a gig. Into the drum kit for what was to be the last song before he fled the stage. Wide-eyed punters looked around. Some cheesed off accepting smiles. It was hard to clap anything and had been for some time. I didn’t hear one boo though – too much love in the room for the real Evan Dando. A pause and the lights mercifully went on. We all shuffled out like a memorial service was over.
I hope the real Evan Dando is still in there somewhere and returns. I will be back. It’s a shame about everything..Ray, Evan the lot.