The Lemonheads performing iconic 28-minute long 1992 album It’s a Shame About Ray, in 2011, is a perplexing offer.
On the one hand, how great to gleefully belt out, once again, “well he kinda, shoulda, sorta, woulda loved her if he coulda….” at the top of ones lungs. Or shout “Alison’s getting her tit pierced!”. Or hearing “Rockin’ Stroll”, “Ceiling Fan in My Spoon”, “Rudderless” and “My Drug Buddy” (highlights all from this scrappy little album and live in Vancouver). How great to hop aboard the Nostalgia Tour Bus and travel back to those Juliana-Hatfielded awkward years. I mean, we’ve been doing it for the past two for Pixies, Pulp, Sebadoh, Pavement, Guided By Voices et al so why not Lemonheads? It’s a delicious place to be for a bit of time.
But this tour for Evan Dando (let’s face it, he is the Lemonheads, and as hard-working as his two hired guns on drums and bass were, nobody really cares), started off in New York with a thud: Evan seemed wasted, the show was kinda car-crash and we all reminded ourselves that “My Drug Buddy” actually meant that Dando was/is? a waster. (Fun fact: Sebadoh’s song “Skull” was written about a night Lou Barlow and Evan Dando did hard drugs together).
I dunno how wasted Evan is these days, but he does look kinda sad. Vacant. Or was it just tentative and shy? Surprised or unhappy to be back on the circuit playing these old amazing songs? Hard to say. But the notorious mumbler said nary more than a “thank you” after clutches of songs, and made little eye contact with the clearly enraptured club audience.
In fact, when he did rarely open his eyes, he chose to fixate on the ceiling. But there were sneaky poignant moments that you could only see from the front row: Evan, turning around and smiling. There were awkward smiles when the love was thrown back at him. And you could tell he was concentrating HARD on remembering how to play the songs…so maybe the happiness at the end of tracks were from…relief?
Yeah, okay, what’d I expect? Evan Dando is a slacker. But we were ready primed to party. And we tried. Evan opened, solo, with the wistful “Outdoor Type” then eventually went into Ray, and for a time the audience bounced and we grinned. Right in his face. But c’mon, man, throw us a line! Banter! Look at us, even.. We wanted something….more than a dutiful play-by of a classic album. Or maybe they didn’t. But I did.
Even “back in the day” (I saw and met Evan and the Lemonheads last on November 16, 1992), I remember more more energy and ease on stage. Maybe it was the drugs, I dunno. Le sigh.
And while non- tracks like “Great Big No”, “Big Gay Heart” , “Into Your Arms” and the fab “If I Could Talk I’d Tell you” sounded pretty sweet. And lest we forget that the Hair soundtrack cover of “Frank Mills” resulted in a jubilant singalong. There was no “Mrs Robinson” (the band always hated that that made it onto Ray), but hey. And it all sounded …fine. But I was hoping that Evan would have made peace with whatever, and be more comfortable in his skin, and happy to be back.. I’m not so sure that was the case.
So yeah, it was good. And it was definitely nostalgic. But it was also…..kinda sorta slack. I kinda shoulda sorta woulda loved it if I coulda.\m/
2 responses to “LEMONHEADS: It’s a Shame About Ray (and kinda, about Evan Dando)”
Kind of sad. Hopefully he’ll gain momentum as the tour progresses? It’s okay to be a slacker, even a bit silent and standoffish, but I get the impression from your review the reticence extended beyond the stage presence a bit into the actual performing as well. But all the best to Evan- I wish him well.
A hard show to parse. At times Dando came across as a middle-aged man embarrassed by the adoration for the work of his youth. At other times he seemed merely uncomfortable to be there, yet determined to soldier on. “It’s a Shame About Ray” is, of course, one of my favourite albums of the era. But I remember the band’s earliest days of “Hate Your Friends” when they were essentially Husker Du clones, and it was interesting hearing Dando’s poppiest material reduced to the essence of his earliest work; harsh, minimalist, fast, and essentially incomplete. Dando was once named to People Magazine’s Most Beautiful People lists – a fact hard to reconcile with the precise, observational nature of his material. At times during the show I felt like Dando just didn’t want his own cult of personality to interfere with the material. I could argue about the end result, while having respect for the approach. I loved the show despite, and because of, its faults.