Thursday, September 15, 2005

the lemonheads @ shepherds bush empire

minifig and i were lucky enough to go and see the lemonheads perform it’s a shame about ray at shepherds bush empire. i’m 22, and the album came out in 1992, so if you do your sums, you could work out that i would have been 9 when the album came out, and so too young to see the lemonheads first time around.

however, in the same year, cameron crowe’s singles also came out, and due to my parents’ uncharacteristically liberal attitude to my choice of tv, films and music, for some reason i later bought it on video. looking back, i have absolutely no idea what made me buy it, and watching it first time around, i didn’t really get any of the jokes. and yet i found these messy twentysomethings with their crinkled clothes and complicated relationships, wondering around the wintry city and dirty bars with their interesting jobs and apartments strangely glamorous and alluring.

scarily, singles was probably the biggest influence on my taste in music, other than perhaps madonna’s like a prayer, as a pre-teen. as a result of the film’s extensive use of paul westerberg on the soundtrack , together with that gorgeous little scene where campbell scott and kyra sedgwick’s eyes meet over the laundry to jimi hendrix’s lush may this be love, I went out and bought the soundtrack. suddenly, in my final year of primary school, i found myself caught up in mudhoney, pearl jam, chris cornell and smashing pumpkins, and all those disapproving editorials in the family newspaper about this thing called grunge which involved dressing like a tramp and listening to loud music, suddenly opened up this brand new amazing little world. this collided with sunday morning trips to the supermarket, where my mum would indulge my curiosity and buy me a teen-magazine. in one copy of mizz there was an article written by a girl whose sister had died of a heroin overdose. this late sister was also a massive nirvana fan, and the articles included some lyrics, and in the space of about ten minutes i came to some dim understanding of why this whole heroin thing was not a good idea for kurt cobain. only unplugged in new york was considered suitable listening for the journey into school each morning, which is fair enough, as my little sister was barely past the i-might-still-pee-my-pants stage of school life. perhaps, if given more time, i would have stumbled upon the lemonheads eventually, but by the time the full impact of this had begun to work its magic, kurt cobain was dead, everyone hated eddie vedder, and there were whispers about groups of anaemic, floppy haired boys in single-syllable bands like blur, pulp, suede

as a result, apart from local radio playing mrs robinson, the lemonheads completely passed me by and I switched my converse all star to three stripe adidas (does anybody else identify music tribes by footwear?)

it was minifig who introduced me to the lemonheads. minifig had the greatest technique for wooing girls, and I can’t work out why the ones before me never fell for it. his carefully wrought compliation tape that he sent me in the post, with a handwritten letter and a charles bukowski poem hooked me, but he also had a habit of presenting girls with a copy of nick drake and the bad seed’s into my arms. he was everything I had idly dreamt about, and our early summer dates spent bumming around cafes and parks, sneaking reads in bookstores and record shopping were blissfully happy.

it was in out of time records, perhaps the best indie record store i’ve ever set foot in, just like you’d imagine the store in high fidelity to be, that minifig persuaded me to buy a copy of it’s a shame about ray. now inextricably connected to gcse revision and falling in love for the first time, that album sounded and felt tinged with nostalgia even as I listened to it for the first time. it’s mix of gentle, drowsy melancholy and upbeat pop, that feeling of being miserable and tipsy in the sunshine, makes it one of the most perfect pop records of the nineties.

so the chance to hear it played in its entirety by a band who i never thought i’d ever see live was too good to be true. the groups of people in their late twenties and early thirties, wearing old band t-shirts and a few more lines on their faces made for a nicer, less cynical audience than you often get at london gigs these days. plus, we were treated with a very special support act by the vaguely familiar eugene kelly… “yeah, I used to be in this band called the vaselineseugene kelly, who went onto play jesus doesn’t want me for a sunbeam, molly’s lips and son of a gun, prompting wayne-esque *we are not worthy” gestures from minifig.

in a characteristic weak-bladdered moment from darling vicarage, i was in the queue for the ladies when the lemonheads took to the stage, and peed frantically listening to the opening chords of rockin’ stroll, scrambling furtively back to my seat. to see evan dando looking fragile and lanky with his munster-ish profile and hide-behind hair – this unassuming, shy rockgod - was predictably excellent – but to see the band playing such a reliably fantastic set made this a gig that exceeded already rocket-high expectations. my favourite moments during the gig were my favourite songs on the album; my drug buddy, rudderless, frank mills – which made me cry its so sweet! and because it’s a shame about ray is such a cheekily short album, we were also treated to some amazing lemonheads classics; into your arms, the great big no, being around and the outdoor type – a song that I understand and sympathise with only too well.
when evan dando stands on a stage by himself with only an electric guitar for company he plays with such awkward grace and sweetness – his performance was really touching and endearing, which is really refreshing with today’s too-cool-for-school attitude being so prevalent. i have two downloaded live acoustic performances by dando – classic soul ballad will you still love me tomorrow (famously in a bed scene of dirty dancing) and abba’s knowing me, knowing you, and his voice just brings out how unbelievably heartbreaking both songs are.

it’s a bit frustrating that people seem to see the lemonheads as a light-weight by-product of grunge, because their songs are so deceptively simple and summery – but they’re also really quite meaningful and honest and for that, the lemonheads should be appreciated and not dismissed.

one of the appealing things about the don’t look back series of gigs is that they inevitably encourage people to look back with misty eyes. and, like certain jumpers and party dresses and types of food, albums are another way of giving your life some kind of framework. i think that because day-to-day life has no plot or structure in the same satisfying way it does in books, it’s nice that on occasions, when you remember stuff, it comes complete with its own costumes and soundtrack. rose-tinted spectacles are never the best or most reliable way of seeing the world by any sensible person’s standards, but i don’t think it hurts to indulge that impulse from time to time.

right now, having just graduated, i’m at the stage where lots of friends are leaving the city to do other things – people are naturally moving on. my little sister is just starting university, and leaving all the comforts of high school and mum and dad and it’s a weird, exciting, desperately sad time – or at least it was/still is for me. so there’s no harm in occasionally thinking about the good old days when you didn’t have to get up for work and someone else cooked your dinner and you had to be home by eleven. and as much as revisiting it’s a shame about ray made me feel deeply nostalgic, everyone looked much older, and i enjoyed being able to buy my own drink with legitimate ID and getting into my flat with my own door key. being sixteen was fun – but i cried more then about small things than i do today, and i could be a little bitch without it even occurring to me that i might be impacting on other people’s lives.

and i get all the jokes in singles now.

a word about shepherd’s bush empire
this was my first time visiting the bush and it’s such an adorable venue. there’s a main standing area which is probably about half the size of brixton, to the point where you can make out distinct characteristics of people’s faces and work out who’s with whom in the crowd. I wouldn’t be surprised if its closer to the size of the stage in koko, or even ulu (although that is really quite diddy). the floor isn’t half as murky or sticky as it is at the astoria, and the seats are positively plush in red velvet. there are three tiered balconied areas which seat a really small number of people – compared to somewhere like hammersmith apollo, there are only two exits and the loos are still inside the main seating area. we sat in the front row of level one, and the view of the stage is perfect – even if you’re over to one side, it’s like being in the centre of seating at almost any other venue in london. the only downside for dirty scum like me is that no smoking is permitted in the seating areas – like brixton since last year, and hammersmith. the astoria still wins hands down for spit-and-sawdust, cans and foil ashtray glammy-grime atmosphere. the décor at shepherd’s bush is really well kept, lots of gilt and gaudy edwardian music-hall sculptures, although it doesn’t have the same gothic edge that brixton has. however, it’s in the level one bar that the venue wins hands down. it has quite smart brown leather stools and chairs, a varied collection of framed, and sometimes signed photos from previous performances with set-lists attached to some – notably the rolling stones and led zeppelin. it was playing quirky 50s rock and roll when i went in, and there are two massive flat screens showing the stage, so you can keep and eye on the proceedings when stocking up on beer. and because the seating section is relatively small, it means that the bar doesn’t get stupidly full and hot.

bravo to the bush!

by the way, this is a lemonhead. they're american(?) sweets - i've never had one, but i can't say that i rate american "candy" much. however, on their official website, you can take a tour to see how they make them - if you're really that interested or that bored.


At 13 December, 2011 11:25 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

you must mean "Nick Cave and the Bad seeds"


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