December 17, 2006

That Was The Show That Was: The Lemonheads

As The Lemonheads are one of our all-time favorite bands, it's surprising that we've never seen the act live. And we have to admit we were prepared to be disappointed by mastermind Evan Dando and his current henchmen before we saw the band close its current tour at Boston's Avalon nightclub last night. Perhaps we'd listened to the 1990 Strat's Rat bootleg a few too many times, as we harbored fears that we were going to be in for a sloppy set with unfinished songs, silly covers and air-headed banter. And the botched opening of the show last night, with Dando aborting the propulsive canter of "Black Gown" to switch from Springsteen Telecaster to white SG, made our stomach sink a little. But our fears were unfounded, as Dando et al. blasted through dozens of songs in 90 minutes ending with the hyperkinetic title track to Hate Your Friends right at 10PM, when the club dictates that rockers clear out to make room for the usual late night discotheque crowd.

Dando took the stage in a boxy, green Army surplus coat tightly buttoned all the way up around his neck, a quirky look for a guy that pretty much defined quirk for the so-called Alternative Nation of the early '90s. More quirk: at one point the 39-year-old hometown boy bantered between songs "let's go Sox in '97!" before realizing that an entire decade had passed since that year. Later, introducing the rollicking acoustic segment of the show, Dando excused the digression by saying "It's Sunday night, so..." Of course, it was Saturday night. But those slip-ups are all part and parcel of Dando's buzzy charm. That in tandem with his storied good looks, still intact even after years lost to drug abuse in the later '90s, probably accounted for the notable amount of youngish women in the crowd -- certainly the most women we've seen at an indie rock show in years.

The set was divided into three chunks, two full-band cookies surrounding a 30-minute creamy center of Dando playing solo with a battered acoustic guitar. Highlights of the set unsurprisingly included the bigger Lemonhead hits: the band's energy level noticeably amplified when playing radio-respected cuts including "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You," "It's A Shame About Ray," "Down About It" and "No Backbone." The latter cut was notable because it was one of only several played from this year's The Lemonheads, Dando's first release under that moniker in a decade. While the material from the latest platter received sort of short shrift, otherwise no one record from the band's last 15 years was favored over another. Last night's show, which we attended thanks to the good folks over at Vagrant, was truly a hit parade. The gratified audience showed its appreciation by singing along and dancing all night, both occurring an irritatingly short distance from your humble reporter.

As longtime readers know, our Lemonheads fandom skewers disproportionately to the earlier records Hate Your Friends, Lick, Creator and Lovey. The superficial rap about The Lemonheads is that the band gained the majority of their following with two well-chosen covers ("Luka" and "Mrs. Robinson," the latter of which was sung last night by an odd pairing of men drafted from the audience), and we're sort of chagrined to admit that in our case this is sort of true. When we first spotted a kid on our school bus wearing a Hate Your Friends shirt we found the title shocking and presumed the music would be beyond grating. But when we saw The Lemonheads' video for "Luka" we were sucked in immediately, and the band has been among our five favorites (Dinosaur Jr., Lilys, Lemonheads, Haywood, Superchunk) ever since.

We were holding out hope to hear some of those old songs last night, and Dando didn't disappoint, offering an acoustic version of "Stove" and the set closer "Hate Your Friends." We would have eaten ours and Ms. Clicky Clicky's empty plastic beer cups if we had been treated to "Year Of The Cat" or "Paint," but we certainly would have enjoyed it. While we're talking about the acoustic set, another highlight was Dando's cover of Noise Addict's "I Wish I Was Him," a song written about Dando by Australian (then-)teen phenom Ben Lee some 11 years ago or so. Another surprise was the weighty version of "Style" that opened the second electric portion of the show -- we enjoyed it but it isn't the sort of Lemonheads tune we expected to survive in set lists some 12 or 13 years on. The full Boston set list is at the bottom of this post. The Lemonheads won't be off the road for long, as another leg of the tour kicks of at the end of January and run through much of February. Full dates are below the set list.

If there was a disappointing aspect to the show, it was the fact that Dando's admitted drug abuse of the last decade and perhaps just the march of time has crimped Dando's vocal range. The high vocal lines of "It's A Shame About Ray" and "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You" were veered around, and to our ears it sounded like Dando had capoed his acoustic take on "Into Your Arms" into a more easily sung key. As both left-handed bassist Vess Ruhtenberg and drummer Devon Ashley ably delivered harmonies elsewhere throughout the night we would have liked to have seen them sing into the breech, as it were.

As rock solid as the mercenary rhythm section of Ruhtenberg and Ashley was, at times it lapsed into robotic delivery of the beats and low end. Considering Dando's groove can waver outside the lines, this might have been a musically defensive move on their part. Even so, Dando's sidemen acquitted themselves marvelously, plying the right harmonies and powering some varied dynamics into Dando's simple but amazingly catchy compositions. Word on the EvanDando.Co.UK forum is that Vess and Devon will be playing on a planned new Lemonheads record.

EvanDando.Co.UK forum member Logan put up several clips on the YouTube here, and one of these clips is a bit of "Hate Your Friends" posted atop this item. We forgot to put the memory card in our digital camera before we got to the venue last night, so we've no picture of our own to put up there. We'll update this review with a picture from Flickr once a good one shows up we can obtain permission to use.

The Lemonheads: InterWeb | MySpace | Flickr | YouTube

>> Set List (thanks to EvanDando.Co.UK poster SparkyHorse for keeping track):

Black Gown
Down About It
Turnpike Down
Bit Part
It's A Shame About Ray
Ride With Me
Baby's Home
It's About Time
No Backbone
My Drug Buddy
Let's Just Laugh
Great Big No

Being Around
Frying Pan
I Wish I Was Him
The Outdoor Type
Favorite T
Into Your Arms

Mrs. Robinson
If I Could Talk I'd Tell You
I Just Can't Take It Anymore
Hannah & Gabi
Big Gay Heart
Hate Your Friends

>> Upcoming 2007 Tour Dates:

01.25 -- Carrboro, NC -- Cat's Cradle
01.26 -- Charleston, SC -- The Music Farm
01.27 -- Athens, GA -- 40 Watt Club
01.28 -- Charlotte, NC -- Amo's Southend
01.30 -- Jacksonville, FL -- Jack Rabbits
01.31 -- Orlando, FL -- The Social
02.01 -- Ft. Lauderdale, FL -- Culture Room
02.02 -- St. Petersburg, FL -- State Theatre
02.03 -- Tallahassee, FL -- The Beta Bar
02.05 -- Birmingham, AL -- Zydeco
02.06 -- New Orleans, LA -- House Of Blues
02.08 -- Houston, TX -- Scout Bar
02.09 -- Austin, TX -- Emo's Alternative Lounging
02.10 -- Dallas, TX -- Palladium Ballroom
02.13 -- Memphis, TN -- Young Ave. Deli
02.14 -- Nashville, TN -- Exit/In
02.15 -- Maryland Heights, MO -- Harrah's Casino
02.16 -- Indianpolis, IN -- The Vogue
02.17 -- Milwaukee, WI -- Shank Hall
02.19 -- State College, PA -- Lulu's
02.20 -- Millvale, PA -- Mr. Smalls
02.21 -- Baltimore, MD -- Ottobar
02.23 -- Brooklyn, NY -- Southpaw
02.24 -- Hoboken, NJ -- Maxwell's

>> For The Records reviews The Lemonheads' 12.12 performance in Toronto here.

>> Wow, you read all the way to the bottom! Here's an MP3 of "No Backbone" from The Lemonheads recent self-titled release.

The Lemonheads -- "No Backbone" -- The Lemonheads
[right click and save as]


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for linking. I really enjoyed your review, btw - excellent detail. I'm really jealous you got both "Hannah & Gabi" & "Big Gay Heart".