Not only did I fly across the Atlantic to see Lemon Jelly, I did it twice. The first time was in 2003, when Mrs. Stubs and Stories and I planned a UK trip in part around seeing Lemon Jelly. Unfortunately, the band canceled that tour after we’d booked our trip, so we didn’t get to see them then.
The second time was the charm, though. This show, in Manchester, was a rollicking good time. If you know anything about Lemon Jelly, you know that they have ways of making things special, whether it’s their album artwork, gatefold covers, colored vinyl pressings and more. Just look at the ticket stub — a bit nicer than your average slab of cardboard (though not as clever as when the band did shows where the tickets consisted of special T-shirts that concertgoers wore to get inside).
For this show, the band had a chalkboard set up near the entrance where attendees could scrawl messages that were displayed on a big screen inside the theater. There also was a stand selling old vinyl records that Lemon Jelly’s Fred Deakin pulled from his personal collection of thrift-store finds. Before the concert, the band held a brief quiz game, with audience members getting prizes for shouting out correct answers.
Then there was the concert itself. Playing before an elaborate light show that cost enough to render the tour unprofitable, the Jellies served up many favorites from their catalog. Some tunes were reworked with new instrumentation played live. Others incorporated new samples, notably the mashup of “Ramblin’ Man” with a Giorgio Moroder number.
After the concert, Fred Deakin played a hastily arranged DJ set at a student union nearby. His eclectic selection was great fun to hear.
The stub says “MTV Dance Party” but this was really the Club MTV tour. The lineup was pretty good for its time: Bell Biv DeVoe, Gerardo, Tony! Toni! Tone!, C&C Music Factory, Tara Kemp and Color Me Bad.
It was a fast-moving show. Some of the acts played only 20-30 minutes, which was just fine by me. I mean, how many songs that aren’t “Rico Suave” do you want to hear from Gerardo?
Bell Biv DeVoe was the headliner, and they got the crowd moving with “Poison” and other hits. My favorite act of the evening was Tony! Toni! Tone!, which I think was the only act to feature live people playing real instruments. They had a good-sized band and created more of a groove than the other performers, who used a DJ or backing track, and maybe a live drummer, for their accompaniment.
I wasn’t too impressed with this show. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen Radiohead four times over the last eight years, but everything seemed to be kind of routine for this gig. The band just sort of went through the motions and played their songs, but there wasn’t any real spark.
Some of the new songs sounded good, but they pretty much sounded like I expected them to sound live, even though I intentionally avoided watching YouTube clips or listening to bootlegs because I didn’t want spoilers. And the old songs didn’t sound as good to me as they did on past tours. I wish they’d do more new arrangements or something.
I left the gig wondering if maybe I’d outgrown this band or something. I don’t think I’ll go see them again unless they’re at a festival where I can pop by, check out a few songs and move on to something else.
For what it’s worth, here’s what someone on the Internet said the set list was.
All I Need
Talk Show Host
Where I End and You Begin
How to Disappear Completely
Optimistic (Thom: “This one is called Optimistic”)
Jigsaw Falling Into Place
Climbing Up the Walls
House of Cards
You and Whose Army?
Street Spirit (Thom: “Thank you everybody”)
Everything In Its Right Place
Before this show, I’d seen the White Stripes four times and the Raconteurs once, and I was always blown away by Jack White’s performances. He’s one of those rare talents and had always been something to behold in the live setting.
That is, until this show. It was the least-inspired I’ve ever seen White on stage. The Raconteurs were still good and I still enjoyed the show, but it lacked those magical moments that White usually delivers.
The Raconteurs’ set ran about 75 minutes, which was fine by me. The sound mix was not so good, though. It was muddy and difficult to hear the vocals, especially down close where our seats were.
I didn’ t know what to expect from The Kills, who opened the show, and ended up liking their set a lot. I’ll try to catch them again when they play Coachella this year.
You know the old clip where all the young girls are screaming and fawning over The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show? As hard as it may be to believe now, that was kind of what it was like at this show. Vanilla Ice had the No. 1 record at the time, and was quite the star among teen and pre-teen girls. When Ice was on stage, bobbing his head and big hair, doing his choreographed dance moves with his backup dancers, asking the audience to answer the age-old question of whether “this side” of the crowd is louder than “that side,” the young girls were loving it. They gushed, they squealed, they melted.
I could claim that I only went to the concert because I was reviewing it for a local paper and therefore got free tickets. But the truth is I wanted to go, and so did my date, even if we were among the only people over 20 in the crowd.
Wikipedia says that Alanis Morissette was the opening act on this tour, but I don’t remember if she was at this gig.
I think it was at this show that for the first time I felt bored at a rock concert. I’d bought Boston’s first album when it came out and loved “More Than a Feeling,” “Long Time” and so forth. Played it to death. This tour was in support of their second album, Don’t Look Back, which I didn’t buy and wasn’t familiar with, aside from the title track. I remember this concert featuring way too much from Don’t Look Back and not enough from their debut, and the songs sounding too much like the record and not very “live” to me.
I also was disappointed that the opening act was Sammy Hagar, who I didn’t know at the time, instead of The Knack, who’d opened their date in San Bernardino a few days earlier. I enjoyed Hagar — this was well before he couldn’t drive 55 and turned into a caricature like he is now — but would’ve loved to see The Knack.
It seemed like every person in the arena (except my friends and me) was smoking pot at this show. The whole place was filled with smoke. I bought a tour t-shirt and put it on at the show — hey, I was 12 and didn’t know it’s uncool to do this. I wore the still-unwashed shirt to school the next day and people could still smell marijuana smoke on it, especially when I said, “Hey, smell my shirt.” I thought it made me cool.
There aren’t many times I feel sorry for a performer, but this night was one of them. The show originally was booked for the Newport Music Hall, which has a capacity of about 1,800 and sits adjacent to the Ohio State University campus. Because of poor ticket sales, it was moved to The Basement, a tiny venue a few miles away that has a slogan of “You’ve gotta start somewhere.”
Turns out the show could’ve been moved to the promoter’s living room, as it seemed like only about 20 people showed up. But instead of cancelling the show or going through the motions for a little while and high-tailing it, Z-Trip made the most of it. He played a full show and did his best to entertain the few people there.
The show could’ve been a good one. The Black Sheep were the openers, and they put on a nice old-school set. And Z-Trip had some fun elements planned, including a bit where someone from the audience would play Pac-Man and Z-Trip would scratch and drop beats to accompany the Pac-Man music. Unfortunately, he picked someone who apparently had never played Pac-Man, or perhaps any video game, before, as she had several tries but could barely move the character and was killed by Blinky or Clyde in a matter of seconds each time.