|Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report|
Evan Dando of The Lemonheads performing "My Drug Buddy" and quite possibly having an acid flashback.
By Andrew W. Griffin
Red Dirt Report, editor
Posted: January 31, 2012
OKLAHOMA CITY – Nineties alt-rock god Evan Dando has been around the block a time or two in the 25 years since he formed the band the Lemonheads in Boston, Massachusetts.
I got turned on to the Lemonheads in 1991 when I picked up Favourite Spanish Dishes a five-song EP
featuring covers of Danzig’s “Skulls,” Monkee Michael Nesmith’s “Different Drum” (made
famous by Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys in 1967) and, amazingly, a cover
of the pop hit “Step by Step” by fellow Bostonians New Kids on the Block. Around this time Dando & co. had done a great cover of Suzanne Vega's "Luka." Second floor, indeed!
Just those song selections alone were evidence that the Lemonheads were a different sort of alt-rock band. One of my best friends in high school that same year had visited his girlfriend at a college in Iowa and had caught the Lemonheads live. He couldn’t stop talking about them.
So, the following year, in the sweet, sweet summer of ‘92, I
eagerly anticipated the release of their next full-length Atlantic Records
release, It’s a Shame About Ray,
picking it up at a record store in a town in Michigan along with a copy of Sonic Youth’s Dirty. I still have that same copy of Ray all these years later. I've convinced myself it's collectible since it doesn't have "Mrs. Robinson" on it.
I was blown away by how good this collection of electro-acoustic tunes with mixes of jangle and punk really was. No wonder it’s become a classic over the years.
My original Atlantic Records version had 12 mostly punchy, poppy alt-rock tunes starting with the power chords of “Rockin Stroll” and heading off from there. It was a perfect album for the height of early 90’s alt-rock. Dando (who would appear in the classic Gen X film Reality Bites with Winona Ryder) had those slacker guy good looks that caused many of my generation to swoon. Hell, People magazine said he was one of the “50 Most Beautiful People” at one point. I forget if that was before or after he admitted to being a crackhead. Oy vey!
But enough of that. This is about a certain record and a certain time, dear readers.
With It’s a Shame About Ray, this was when Juliana Hatfield was playing bass with the Lemonheads and she was a draw, not just with her cute looks and bass-playing abilities (as a former member of Blake Babies) but with those vocals that complimented Dando so well over the course of Ray – evident on songs like “Rudderless,” “My Drug Buddy” and that screamy bit before “Bit Part.” Love her – especially that “bit part” she had in in My So-Called Life (*sigh!*).
But on this current tour, where Dando, along with a bass player and drummer (no organ or pedal steel, sadly), play It’s a Shame About Ray in its entirety. This is an approach not unlike fellow Bay Staters the Pixies, touring simply on the strength of their 1989 album Doolittle, something we witnessed and reported here at Red Dirt Report back in November.
The Lemonheads have been touring in support of this It's a Shame About Ray tour for many months now and made a stop at Oklahoma City venue The Conservatory on Monday night.
Anyway Hatfield is long gone (former Taking Back Sunday
bassist Fred Mascherino is with Dando now) and David Ryan, the drummer who
crack-boom-bammed those drums so well in ’92 is replaced on stage by talented drummer and multi-instrumentalist Chuck Treece.
Long before Dando hit the stage, two openers warmed up the
steadily growing crowd at The Conservatory. First was local rock act Junebug
Spade. These guys are great and have a new disc out called Extra Virgin Olive
Oil, which I intend to review very soon. Check them out if you can. they're getting some national attention (SXSW, I think?) and deservedly so. Plus, the guys are friendly as hell and were excited to learn one of my cats is named Junebug Spade. Neat, eh?
And touring this great land with the Lemonheads is the singer
Meredith Sheldon, who, with her solid backing band, gave a performance any
Juliana Hatfield Three fan – you know who you are - would have appreciated. Oh, and Sheldon's drummer? Whoever that guy is deserves high praise for his skillz.
And then it was time for Evan Dando. With his dishwater-blonde, shoulder-length hair (not dissimilar from the look he was sporting two decades ago – has it really been that long?), a rumpled plaid shirt and mustard-colored pants, the 44-year-old musician slung an acoustic guitar and broke into a series of familiar Lemonheads material ranging from “Outdoor Type” (used to great effect in the 2000 film The Tao of Steve - Tulsa alt-rockers Epperley appear in that same film, coincidentally) to “Being Around” and the hit “Into Your Arms” both from 1993’s Come On Feel the Lemonheads. All the while images of a car wash and random outdoor urban/rural scenes were shown on a screen behind the singer. Kind of random. Very Lemonheads-ish.
After a few strummy, acoustic numbers it was finally time for the It’s a Shame About Ray material. And it was worth the wait. With his eyes closed most of the time and standing firmly in place, it was as if the audience wasn’t even there as “Rockin Stroll” ran into “Confetti” ran into “It’s a Shame About Ray” and on to the end. Mascherino did a solid job on backing vocals while drummer Treece (a skate punker from Philly with an amazing musical resume who has worked with Billy Joel, Sting, Urge Overkill, Bad Brains and Pearl Jam, among others) kept time like no other, smiling away there in his Phillies cap.
I will say this - the crowd knew these songs. Maybe not all of 'em., but the ones in their 30's and 40's, like me.
And just so you know, the 12 songs (a later release featured
a remake of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” which became a minor hit
for the band) on It’s a Shame About Ray
are short and fun. The bass line and the harmonious “oooh-bop-bop-aw-oooh” on a
song like “Kitchen” are incredibly charming and fun. And there was some
screechily loud guitar work on Dando’s part that had my ears ringing til the
following morning. Now that's a good rawk show, gang!
And on the original version of Ray, the last song for the Ray portion of the show is the amusing
and touching acoustic number “Frank Mills” which was from the Hair soundtrack. Wildly, right after the last lyrics – “Tell him
Angela and I don’t want the two dollars back … just him” – on “Frank Mills,” the
curious frontman clumsily sets his guitar down and BOLTS off the Conservatory
stage, disappearing, assumedly to get a glass of water, take a pee, take a hit or
something Dando-ish. It was a rather jarring exit. He and the band did return and offered
up some melodic alt-rock gems like “The Great Big No.” But his odd behavior
reminded me of all those articles I read throughout the Nineties about Dando’s
weird, self-destructive behavior. He’s an incredibly talented guy, as the
material on It’s a Shame About Ray
clearly proves, but you sometimes wonder if the drugs didn't take a heavy toll.
Oh, and word is that Dando is releasing a new collection of old tunes from late ‘92/early ‘93 next week under the title Hotel Sessions, recorded in a hotel in Australia. It’s basically him in a hotel room with a guitar, strumming away songs that would become the tunes on Come On Feel the Lemonheads, classics like “Big Gay Heart” (a fave) and “It’s About Time.” Oh, and Dando says the Hotel Sessions version of “Into Your Arms” is better than the original version with the band. We shall see.
Copyright 2012 West Marie Media
|Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report|
Drummer Matt Barrett and singer/guitarist Peter Anthony Seay II perform with Junebug Spade (Jan. 30, 2012)
|Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report|
Meredith Sheldon has that Juliana Hatfield quality that appeals to Evan Dando.