The Lemonheads + Heyrocco @ Academy 2, 15th February 2019

Though this evening’s venue has long since been a fixture along the Bristol Road, it has never quite surpassed the previous incarnation of the Academy situated in the vicinity of the Dale End part of the city, just a short distance across from its current residence. When filled to the brim, any endeavour, be it getting a drink from the bar, making your way to the bathrooms, or merely attempting to make it through one song without the jostling that ensues as the bathroom and bar queues converge with the periphery of the main part of the audience in a swarm of mild-mannered annoyance.

At least tonight will see The Lemonheads playing in the Academy 2 room, in my opinion, the best of the three spaces that inhabit the vast structure. The elevated stage ensures that you will likely have an almost unimpeded view of the band, well from their waists up, at least. The most crucial aspect for me, is that the room has never once disappointed when it comes to the quality of the sound produced. Whether this is as a result of the configuration of the room, or the same dedicated sound engineer employed by the venue, or a combination of both, I am a little too dim to determine, but this evening’s immersion in the heady mixture of country and grunge will surely be an unrelenting sonic experience.

Heyrocco are the headliners choice of support for this stint of the UK tour. The three-piece outfit hail from Charleston, South Carolina, and are generally described as having a very definite sound entrenched in grunge, though the bands 2015 debut release, ‘Teenage Movie Soundtrack’, had its moments where things took a turn towards a more “power-pop” infused sound. Since then, the trio have released the EP ‘Waiting on Cool’; and have a brand new single out – ‘Destroyer’ – released in early February.

That time frame between committing the songs to tape, as it were, and performing them this evening, highlights the degree to which the band have seen their sound change from the polished versions on the album to the distinctly dirtier and raw takes offered up this evening. Lead vocalist and guitarist, Nathan Merli checks all the boxes in terms of charisma, but he appears to be a little less than his usual self, dragging himself through the first couple of songs. The band is obviously not quite operating with their usual gusto, as Merli alludes to occasionally throughout the set. Merli makes mention that the band can do better, seeking the assurances from the audience and questioning several times if the crowd are with them. Though the turnout for the support band is decent – the room is at least a third full – and the audience reaction is polite and encouraging, the energy is somewhat struggling to rise above the apathy.

The band is held together by the exquisitely named Tanner Cooper on drums. A glorious name for a drummer, though the bassist might have something to say as to who wins the award for most appropriately named musician – his name is genuinely Chris Cool. Cooper’s drumming is powerful and demonstrates an inventive and at times playful element. His focus is firmly upon whatever aspect of his kit he is hitting, his gaze is only occasionally averted, surveying the audience, or to offer a wry smile in the direction of Merli following some quip. ‘Mom Jeans’, much heralded by BBC Radio 1’s Huw Stephens, is certainly the most memorable song, likely as it is so distinct to rest of the set.

The band reach the conclusion of their set and depart without any acknowledgement. Whether this lack of civility is down to some dissatisfaction with the show, merely a regular occurrence, or that their lack of roadies calls for them to dive into dismantling their equipment ahead of the headliners arrival. Either way, the performance was solid, but several dates into the tour it might be a case that the band were feeling slightly fatigued.

A little later, the same rear stage door that saw the members of Heyrocco hurtle through, cracks open and three shadowy figures emerge, before a fourth figure appears, several inches taller than his predecessors, and a shoulder width that almost matches the width of the door. It is of course the unmistakeable frame of the towering Evan Dando. He squeezes himself through the door and onto the stage. The audience, by this point, is crammed from the front to the very rear of the room, ready to welcome their 90s’ confidant. The intro music is killed in anticipation of the first song, but a polite call from Dando requests that it is turned back on whilst some technical difficulties are overcome.

The band launch into ‘Speed of The Sound of Loneliness’, a John Prine cover, and one of the many country infused songs that make up The Lemonheads’ latest album ‘Varshons 2’. Though Dando’s voice has barely aged over the last quarter of a century, and manages to sit firmly at home with the bands 90s’ output, but who’d have though that it would lend itself so well to a classic country composition. A gift bequeathed to Dando in recent years and fully exploited on both ‘Varshons 2’ and 2009’s ‘Varshons’, two albums packed full of country classics like ‘Waiting Around to Die’, ‘Take it Easy’ and ‘Abandoned’.

Once again, the sound in the Academy 2 room is excellent, and the mix is as good as anyone could hope for. The band members barely have time to compose themselves between songs as a torrent of their 90s’ material rushes from the stage. The magnificent ’Hospital’, ‘Down About It’ and ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’ are played with a unison of vigour which results in a deluge of applause being fired back at the stage by the exuberant crowd. At this point, Dando takes a moment to thank the room for revitalising the group, as prior to their stage arrival, the members were feeling a bit “lacklustre”. This might be the natural lull that can occur several dates into a tour, once the initial novelties have wained, and the enthusiasm and adrenaline levels struggle to compete with fatigue.

Unlike Heyrocco’s earlier experiences, The Lemonheads are re-energised by the joyous audience, and the audience are kept exuberant by the band, a cycle that will continue to the end of a blistering set that is close to approaching some thirty songs. Despite the occasional technical glitch, most notably, during a cover of the Smudge song ‘The Outdoor Type’, when Dando’s acoustic guitar cuts out. He merely smiles and continues to play without getting caught up in the details, simply relishing the moment and energy hurtling around the room. ‘Your Cheatin Heart’, Being Around’, ‘My Drug Buddy’, ‘If I Could Talk I’d Tell You’ and ‘Into My Arms’ propel the audience to more frenetic cheering. An obvious declaration to the band that this crowd, unlike with Heyrocco, were completely with them.

Reviewer: Chris Curtis

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