Grunge rockers take it down a notch to celebrate the songs that have influenced them and tour new covers album Varshons II.
Remember the ‘90s? It was longer ago than you think. Those heady summers rocking out to grunge, going to music festivals wearing clothes that you were prepared to surrender to the mud gods, not outfits which have been designed to cultivate an Insta-following. The last days before constant connectivity, before personal branding, when you were allowed to remember or forget without the indelible reminders of the internet.
Monthly publications of The Face magazine were filled with images of Evan Dando peeking out from the split of his long, asymmetric hair with his male model good-looks partially obscured. Will the same things a gig-goer loved about The Lemonheads be the same more than a quarter-century later?
Before that question is answered the baton is passed to the next generation of American garage rock bands, Hey Rocco. This trio of understated grunge rockers take to a cold stage and confidently rock it. With a drawled instruction to, “Get down” from frontman Nathan Merli, play a solid set.
Merli holds the stage while through a tight set of well-received material from single releases, an EP and their brand new, debut album, Teenage Movie Soundtrack.
The between song banter is limited to small mumbles from Merli, “Welcome to the show-ow-ow” and, “Dance.” Finally, with the arrival of Evan Dando who doubled up the drums, Merli corrects himself, “Just the sexy people dance.” You can catch these rising stars dialling up the energy for The Lemonheads on their outstanding tour dates and at a string of festival dates over the summer. Check them out you won’t regret it.
After playing the supporting role on drums Evan Dando returns to the stage along with just a second guitar accompaniment. With just the two of them on-stage they open the evening with a lovely rendition of Being Around, the crowd singing along softly creating a gentle harmony.
As the audience sways from side to side they are treated to a medley of tunes strummed out by Dando and underpinned by the second musician playing a steel body guitar. The musical assortment culminates in a cover of The Eagles Take It Easy performed by the full band.
The set oscillates between gentle melodic re-workings of Lemonheads songs and covers from their most recent release, an album of covers Varshons II. Occasional bursts of rock almost feel obligatory. Announcing the next song, Dando runs his words together, “This-is-a-song-called-It’s-A-Shame-About-Ray” and burns through the most popular song in their canon. He returns to the covers with recovered enthusiasm for a country-tinged version of Lucinda Williams’ Abandoned. A little more love is given another crowd favourite, Into Your Arms.
Taking every opportunity available, Dando jumps in place at the front of the stage or disjointedly waves his arms over his head like a child. It is endearing and encourages the crowd to do the same. The band members rotate on and off the stage, Nick Saloman joining Dando on stage for a cover of The Bevis Frond’s Lights Are Changing. The addition of an extra guitar provides real richness to the melodies, and Dando’s delight at being joined by his contemporary and friend is heart-warming.
With a mixture of band and fan favourites, covers from influential songwriters and the invocation of warm and nostalgic memories, The Lemonheads have drawn together the last days of analogue and the modern age. The only question remaining is when will Evan Dando create some new original songs?
The Lemonheads continue their 2019 tour across the US in May and June. Varshions II is out now on Fire Records
Live review by Sarah Sievers and photography by Marc Broussely of The Lemonheads at The Forum Kentish Town on 19th February 2019.