The Lemonheads roll into the Manchester O2 Ritz on their album anniversary tour, Liam Moody was there at the scene of the crime for our review.
Is there a band who time has been kinder to than Big Star? Although barely together as a group for a handful of years, their imprint on the world of pop and rock has proven to be a lasting influence with their successors in power pop, the likes of Teenage Fanclub, The Posies and The Lemonheads managing the same feat of creating tightly-harmony’d jangling masterpieces which throughout the late 1980s into the 1990s existed parallel to the emerging grunge and alternative rock scenes: simultaneously part of but separate from the common narrative.
It’s this timelessness which has allowed these artists to amass and sustain a huge following over the years and allows events like tonight- The Lemonheads’ 30th anniversary of their breakthrough album It’s A Shame About Ray, played in full to a sellout Manchester crowd.
Support is from Bass Drum Of Death, the three-piece garage-rock outfit headed by John Barrett play super-charged rock n’ roll stripped down to its barest elements with twin barre-chord buzzsaw guitars- a sound equally at home in the back room of a dive bar as a stage the size of the Ritz.
With a couple of sneak previews for next year’s release Say I Won’t alongside a good selection from previous albums, Barrett and company are a no-frill thrill of swampy, blown-out blues, attacking the senses with the effortless swagger of a band who clearly know their way around a hook- an act created and honed in the post-Meet Me In The Bathroom New York City scene designed to grab attention, to be loud without being overly heavy and with insistent earworm melodies delivered in sub 3 minute bursts: a Ramones built on the Delta.
The intertwined backing vocals and snaking guitar lines from second guitarist and brother Jim Barrett show that Bass Drum Of Death are more than just strutting noise, but equally capable of descending into some Thurston-and-Lee-style sludgefests while John howls about bad parties, bad liquor and bad girls: the classic blues rock triad.
The 10pm curfew imposed by the venue unfortunately denies the possibility of a monster 37-song set from The Lemonheads as seen earlier in the tour, as frontman Evan Dando quietly and gently makes his way onstage to rapturous applause, strapping on an acoustic guitar and leading the crowd through a campfire singalong of “The Outdoor Type” (yeah I teared up a little bit during this. Shut up. It’s a wonderful song and it hit weirdly hard for some reason.) before a rapid-fire selection delivered almost like a medley, with just a few seconds between each song to gauge fan reaction.
The acoustic reworking of songs like “Being Around” and “Hard Drive” show a beauty in their starkness, with Dando’s understated style feeling closer to the likes of American Music Club or Joe Pernice, his face almost entirely obscured by the sweeping fringe and looking almost exactly as he did in 1992.
“OK, let’s play the album!”- a massive tonal shift as Evan is joined by the band, and the room travels back 30 years, the frontman barely audible over the singing and screaming from the crowd as The Lemonheads fire through “It’s A Shame About Ray“. An emphasis on ‘power” without neglecting the ‘pop’, the distorted jangle and driving drums of the title track and “Rudderless” in particular feel like 70s AM radio through a fuzzbox, freewheeling and loose while holding absolute command of the room. Perhaps conscious of time, the band sprint through their setlist, determined to deliver a suitable bang for the audience’s buck, even with a brief electric solo interlude that sees Dando channeling Jonathan Richman with his plaintive voice.
The songs themselves haven’t aged a day- perfectly preserved like a mosquito in amber ready to be extracted as required, and blessed with the same easygoing spirit they had on first release. Their music might defy time, but unfortunately The Lemonheads themselves cannot, the strict 10pm end time quickly approaching and forced the band to end their set early, to the dismay (but understanding) of their fans. However, even in an abbreviated state, the Ritz was spellbound throughout.