The Lemonheads Return To Boston

Evan Dando and company keep it on the rails for hometown gig

Dando! (Image: Facebook)

Nostalgia tours – those celebrating a zero-number decade with the band playing all the songs on their “best” album – are not solely the province of ‘70s and ‘80s rockers. The ‘90s are a long way away as well, and Gen Xers want their heaping helping, too. 

It was 1992 when the Lemonheads released It’s a Shame About Ray. Thirty years down the road the Lemonheads – well, chief Lemonhead Evan Dando and whatever two others he’s recruited on drums and bass – this would now be drummer Lee Falco and bassist Farley Glavin – wrapped up a five-week-plus tour in his old hometown of Boston with two soldout shows at the Paradise Rock Club, Dec. 17 and 18. I was at the first. 

So many ‘heads have passed through the portals since the punky days of 1986, when Ben Deily and (now-famous director) Jesse Peretz were in the mix. You know how these days certain singers take band-like names even though it’s essentially a solo project? Seems like Dando might’ve been ahead of that curve. Of course, if it is or was a real band, it’s a pretty good guess Dando’s not the easiest fella to work with.

Let’s lay the cards on the table. Dando has, shall we say, a mercurial reputation. He can be a gentle sweetheart or a profane beast. (I can vouch for this personally, but not here and now.) Reports from the road on this tour are that he’s been “good,” meaning not doing coke or heroin. I think that’s probably true, because his longtime friend/frenemy Juliana Hatfield was the opener (joining the Lemonheads at one point for four songs later) and I don’t think she’d be with him if he were. They’d been pals for years, played Evan-and-Juliana shows together and Hatfield had even been a one-time Lemonhead. Their friendship exploded at one point and Hatfield said she wanted nothing more to do with him. Obviously, that’s changed. Good for her, good for him. 

Still, for the first of his hometown appearances Dando skipped the afternoon soundcheck and arrived at the club right at the scheduled 10 p.m. set time. Before taking the stage, he walked through the adjacent lounge area, where some fans were gathered watching football. He was toting an acoustic guitar and played for about a minute for them before sauntering to the green room. The set started only ten minutes late and they ended up playing a full, long set, an hour-and-45-minutes.

Lemonheads 2022 Tour Poster (Inage: The Lemonheads)

After playing “Speed of Sound” early in the set Dando said, “All right, y’all, you’re gonna get your money’s worth tonight.” I was wondering if he was joking or being flip, but, no, he wasn’t. There were rough spots. There were stops and re-starts – he did ask if anyone wanted their money back – but the band put out.

Dando will never be confused with a showman. He is not in any way shape or form a showman. Dando finished most songs by turning his back to the crowd, twiddling with knob on his amplifier or tuning his guitar and then slinking back to the mic stand. Sometimes, we’d get a squeak of feedback. He did speak to the crowd, but pretty much everything was mumblecore. 

But the man does like to play. He’s not demonstrative but he is, in his own way, enthusiastic. And I’ve always caught that vibe about him – no matter how difficult or diffident or assholic he’s been, he likes strapping on the guitar and rocking out. Or folking out as he did for five straight songs with the other guys offstage.This included some country – Townes van Zandt’s “Snow Don’t Fall” and Lucinda Williams’ “Like a Rose” – as well as the Lemonheads own clever “Outdoor Type,” co-written with Aussie friend and one-time collaborator Tom Morgan of Smudge.

Dando was, you may recall, the alterna-hunk of the grunge era, even if the Lemonheads were pop-punkers, not grunge guys. Dando’s forte has been to marry bright, breezy melodies to lyrics that can take nasty — or sad –twists and turns. Not always, though. Sometimes Dando’s music — mid-tempo pop with a rock or country-rock kick — is insouciant, listener-friendly, Kinks-ian.

Before the band even got to the second half of the show, the sequential It’s A Shame About Ray run-through (with a Ramones interruption), a fan next to me said, “It’s a shame Evan hasn’t written anything in 20 years.” (Not quite true; the eponymous album of self-penned songs came out in 2006 so … 16 years. There were two Varsions – covers albums – in 2009 and 2019. Songs by Wire, Leonard Cohen and Gram Parsons were all in the mix.)

But point taken. I don’t know if the creativity has dried up or Dando feels it’s not worth the effort in this age of less renumeration. And clearly he can still put fannies in the seats – of folks moving on the dance floor, as it were – whenever he decides to pull the touring trigger.

 

VIDEO: The Lemonheads “My Drug Buddy”

Most of Dando’s material moves in the melodic mid-tempo range but there’s some fast or slow variation and even if the song is compact, there’s often room for a brief screaming guitar leads here and there. Things rocked up considerably, too, when Hatfield joined the fray for “It’s a Shame About Ray,” “Rudderless,” “My Drug Buddy” and “Bit Part,” giving ‘em all a crunchy dual-guitar attack. Dando and Hatfield both sang on “Drug Buddy” – even looking at each other! – and that song, perhaps, has Dando’s most meaningful couplet: “I’m too much with myself/I wanna be someone else.”

There was a fun-piss take of Dando (now playing drums) doing a bit of Eagles “Lyin’ Eyes” and a double-time, melody-stripped, tossed-off rendition of “Mrs. Robinson,” which you may recall was their oddball breakthrough hit in 1992.  Dando told American Songwriter he hated the song as well as Paul Simon and only did it to promote a 25th anniversary home video release of The Graduate. Simon reportedly hated the cover, too. I was talking with Dando back in 1996 and asked if he’d had any Mrs. Robinson in his own life. Yes, he said, it happened when he was 16 and she was 24.

I like that Dando is a Slade fan – the title of the Come On Feel the Lemonheads says as much. I like that he’s a Ramones fan and covered the band’s “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” at the gig. It’s light/dark mix and mid-tempo gait merged perfectly with the Lemonheads own. If you didn’t know … I like that he’s got his shit together enough to do this, a flawed and sometimes shambolic, but relatively people-pleasing set of songs featuring everything from the one Lemonheads album you’d probably call “classic.” If I were in a Christgau kind of mode I’d say: B+.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jim Sullivan

Jim Sullivan has written for The Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, the Boston Herald, Boston Common, the Christian Science Monitor, and Creem. Follow him on Twitter @jimsullivanink.

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