The Lemonheads bring It’s A Shame About Ray to Rock City

Evan Dando is on fine unpredictable form in Nottingham for a trip back through grunge history

You don’t expect Evan Dando to cover Britney Spears. Then again, you really should have learned not to expect anything from The Lemonheads by now. 

Only a few years ago, Dando’s onstage behaviour was so notorious it became part of the draw. Now settling awkwardly into some kind of respectability, the sense of danger is still right there under the surface. 

Shuffling into Rock City looking like the ghost of Kurt Cobain, all bets were off as Dando hung his hair over an unplugged guitar with an audible sigh. The Roundhouse got a Courtney Love duet. Leeds got an abrupt ending after Dando stormed off in a huff. Luckily for Nottingham, The Lemonheads that showed up were on great form; a time capsule right back to 1992.  

Somehow packing almost 40 tracks into 90 minutes, Dando rattled through hits, covers and curios without really stopping. Opening with Smudge’s ‘Outdoor Type’ for an acoustic solo mini set (‘Being Around’, ‘Into Your Arms’, ‘Ride With Me’…), his voice sounded seasoned enough for country. 

“Right, let’s do the album”, he suddenly muttered, switching abruptly from Gram Parsons to grunge as the rest of the band walk out and almost blow the speakers with ‘Rockin’ Stroll’. This is the It’s A Shame About Ray tour, and the next 12 tracks come from the band’s seminal 92 record in perfect order, and in perfect shape. 

Ending the album on ‘Frank Mills’, Dando flashes a rare grin as he hears the crowd singing all the words back – right before looking visibly pissed off during ‘The Ballad Of El Goodo’ when the noise from the bar threatens to take over. Pulling things back just in time (thankfully avoiding a repeat of the tantrum we saw at Stylus), the rest of the set goes pretty much wherever it wants to. 

There are Lemonheads classics (‘Hospital’, ‘Break Me’, ‘The Great Big No’…) alongside cover nods to John Prine (‘Speed Of The Sound of Loneliness’), Elvis Costello (‘Beyond Belief’) and Florida Georgia Line (‘Round Here’). And then things get weird. There’s no special guest for Nottingham but there is something better – Dando live busking on stage as he takes requests, forgets the chords to at least two songs and laughs through Britney’s ‘I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman’, Whitney Houston’s ‘How Will I Know’ and, even odder, Duke Ellington’s ‘Solitude’. 

“Any other requests?” he asks. Everyone shouts back “Mrs. Robinson!” and he flips right back to looking disgruntled. “I’ll get the band back out for that one” he snaps. The band do reappear, but not for The Lemonheads’ biggest hit (barely played on this tour at all), instead closing on ‘Big Gay Heart’, ‘Stove’, ‘If I Could Talk I’d Tell You’ and ‘Luka’, apparently played for a friend in the front row. 

Who knows if any of that was actually written on the setlist, and who knows if Dando walked off feeling good or bad about any of it. It’s a fool’s game for any band to try and recapture the past, not least a band with as much history as The Lemonheads. But somehow this felt the way all album anniversary shows ought to feel – looking back from a very different place. Nostalgic. Slightly resentful. Just as dangerous as ever.

Find tickets for the remaining Lemonheads tour dates here.