Thursday, 3 May 2012

The Lemonheads - Tivoli, Utrecht

It's a Shame about Evan

A few months back I raised a question amongst friends that has bothered me for years - ‘is Evan Dando, main man of The Lemonheads, a musical genius or is he the luckiest stoner in music’? The question stirred strong debate but was never resolved, so when it was announced that he would be touring their break through album, It's a Shame about Ray, as part of its 20 year anniversary, a trip down to Utrecht to settle the debate was too good to refuse.

For those too young or who perhaps missed the rise and fall of the Lemonheads, allow me to fill in some of the gaps. They were an 'alternative' band in the 90's with a troubled lead singer who often sung of his drug problems. Unfortunately for them they came from Boston, rather than Seattle and had a 'stoner-pop' sound with some amazingly catchy tunes, which could never be mistaken for grunge. As such they never really got too much attention, especially back in the States. But in Australia and Europe they built a huge following, largely build on their handsome but troubles lead man and the album that got them their big break, It's a Shame About Ray.

But for all the brilliance and success of some of the songs, many felt that they could have been so much more. Constant talk of drug use, missing interviews, being late for concerts and a general stoner laziness meant a lot of people never took them seriously.

Leading up to the show there really was a big part of me that was convinced that this would settle the debate on how good the Lemonheads really were. A great live show would put any doubts to rest, while a washed up has-been performance could end my romance of this band altogether. Needless to say after so many years of debate, the night turned out to be a complete mixed bag that left me even more undecided than before I had started.

Let's get it over with and start with the down side - Evan clearly did not want to be in Utrecht on this wet and miserable Saturday night. 

To be fair, not many other people did either and the Tivoli was barely half full. Maybe it was this that started him on the wrong foot, but either way he came out and knocked over the entire It's a Shame about Ray album in less than 30 minutes. Admittedly that is how long the album goes for but he barely took a breath between songs let alone spoke to the crowd bar a mumbled 'thanks'. And it goes without saying there was no sign of Mrs Robinson, which to be fair was only on the re-release of the album so he did have us on a technicality.

But if you are going to bother touring an album anniversary you would think you might talk about it a little or give the fans some insight into what a couple of the songs means to you after all these years. We would not hear a word out of the big man, about anything, all night.

On the plus side, he still sounded really good. His voice is just like on the record and while his guitar playing isn't flashy he certainly knows what he's doing. Once he got through Ray he moved onto all the other big name songs on the Lemonheads back catalogue, sometimes with the band but also playing quite a lot of the set solo on acoustic guitar.

For all the lack of effort on his part, the songs still brought the crowd (and me) right in. So many of the songs are just so catchy, you can't help but sing along and everyone seemed to know all the words to the majority of songs.

Listening to Ray again does make you realise it is one of the top albums of its day and just like Nevermind or Ten, it is still as amazing today and it was 20 years ago. To make a 12 track album which goes for 30 minutes with that many memorable songs is a feat in itself. But the man clearly has his demons and I would be interested to know why he is even bothering with the tour or if we just caught him on a bad night.

I guess sometimes you just have to accept that a ship without a rudder really is just like a ship without a rudder.

Comments welcome if you would like to join the Evan Dando Debate?!

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