Sunday: The Lemonheads Take Us Back to Our Teen Years (Confusion and All) at the Independent

Categories: Last Night
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The Lemonheads at the Independent Sunday night.
The Lemonheads
Oct. 30, 2011
The Independent


Better than: Having to build a flux capacitor to get back to "the good old days."

For Lemonheads fans, there's little more tantalizing than the prospect of hearing the band's finest album It's A Shame About Ray, in its entirety, in a live setting. And that's exactly what's on offer tonight. The Independent isn't sold out, but the mood is one of excited anticipation before Evan Dando and Co. arrive onstage (and it takes them a really long time to emerge, by the way, which only serves to build up the tension).

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It's Dando that gets onstage first, and treats us to acoustic renditions of five songs, including the ever-wonderful, and still heart-warming, "Being Around" -- and it feels like a valuable and intimate pre-show bonus.

When the rest of the bandmembers do arrive, they launch straight into "Rockin' Stroll," the first track on the album, and transport all of us back to 1992 -- a feat aided by how well Evan Dando has aged. He looks just as scruffy, he seems just as whimsical, and he has retained his boyish, sometimes mischievous, charm (he manages to turn the end of "Rudderless" into Danzig's "Mother"!). It's not that we'd forgotten the majesty of this album in the years that have since passed, but there's something truly magical about hearing It's A Shame About Ray live again tonight, after such a long time.

"Rudderless" remains the finest song on the album, and is just as powerful tonight as it has ever been. "Drug Buddy" maintains its stoned charm, while "Alison's Starting To Happen" and "Ceiling Fan" provide us with two of the most joyful, ebullient moments of the night. When Dando pulls his acoustic back out for "Frank Mills," it prompts a mass singalong, as if everybody just learned the song yesterday.

The execution of all this, we should note, is not perfect -- Dando can no longer hit some of the high notes, his voice cracks in places that it shouldn't, and when the bassist attempts to harmonize on "Kitchen," it is disastrously off-key. Where's Julianna Hatfield when you need her? (No, really -- where is Julianna Hatfield these days? Tonight made us miss that sweet, sweet voice of hers).

These flaws, though, don't really matter. More than anything, they serve to remind us all of a time when indie bands didn't have to be polished and perfect; when imperfections weren't problematic; when things were a little less manufactured. No, the problems tonight come after the Ray portion of the evening has finished -- that's when things get ramshackle to a frustrating degree.

There are sixteen more songs after Ray is over. And they are paced in a manner that makes zero sense. It feels as if, rather than just giving us a well-planned set of their finest material, The Lemonheads are opting to chuck as much random stuff as they can at us, in an order that lags, drags, and confuses.

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While hearing the likes of "It's About Time", "Divan", "Down About It," and "Into Your Arms" is joyous, and while "Style," "Stove," and "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You" inject some real energy into proceedings, the setlist is so erratic that it makes it difficult to know by the end of tonight if the band is coming or going, leaving or staying, winning or... well, flogging a horse that was winning a race half an hour ago, but now looks like it's struggling to even stand up.

It's hard to imagine anyone leaving tonight all that upset -- we did get to hear our favorite Lemonheads songs, after all. But the show would've been great had some control been exercised, had a few songs been cut, and if a concrete pacing plan had been in place. It's A Shame About Ray remains wondrous, but it's a shame the band under-prepared.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: The realization that it's been 18 years since I first saw The Lemonheads -- on the original Ray tour -- makes me, on one hand, feel completely ancient, and on the other hand, incredibly grateful to have grown up with this band as the soundtrack. Evan Dando is an incredibly special songwriter when he puts his mind to it and it's moving to hear some of these songs live again.

Overheard: "After this, I think we should go back to my place and have a My So Called Life marathon..."

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The Independent

628 Divisadero, San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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