Lemonheads live at Harvard University - 18th April 1987
with Bullet Lavolta and Blake Babies
by Jeff Chase from What Is To Be Done?
Kings Of The Wild Frontier
If you mention something about rock music at Harvard these days, everyone will assume you're talking about the upcoming Elvis Costello concert. Yet while the musical attention of the majority of students was directed towards the King of America (or Napoleon Dynamite or whomever you want), quality live music was already appearing on the Harvard campus.
It came in the form of the "Hate Your Friends" show, headlined by Boston's Lemonheads and named after their forthcoming LP on Taang Records. The three bands featured here were certainly a mix-and-match assortment - jangly pop, metalloid hardcore and melodic punk all sharing time - but this juxtaposition proved to be the concert's strength. Between the three bands, there was something for all tastes.
The Blake Babies led off the night with their blend of female vocals and R.E.M-style guitars. The criteria for a band that makes this sort of pop is how well they distinguish themselves from any one of the millions of Athens, GA. groups already on their road to stardom. The Blake Babies did a pretty good job of differentiation. Their guitar riffs, though familiar, did not sink into Southern cliches, and their lead vocalist managed to resist comparisons to the B-52's. It wasa matter of no small consolation that with songs titled "Boiled Potat" and "Cocaine Slut", one did not have to worry about mumbled and pretentiously obscure lyrics. Killing knee-jerk comparisons is a tough job, and one that the Blake Babies did well.
The intensity level really took a jolt upwards with the start of the Bullet LaVolta. After the delicate sounds of the Blake Babies, the decibel sound of Bullet hit you like a well-aimed right from Mike Tyson. Bullet LaVolta's strength comes from duelling guitars of Adams House junior Clay Tarver and Adams House Classics Tutor Corey Brennan: Tarver favors straight-forward riffs while Brennan produces lightning-quick metal solos. The result is a combination of licks reminiscent of the best MC5 or Cream and the manual dexterity of modern metal.
Bullet's best live cut, "Baggage," exemplified the success of this mix. "Baggage" has all the elements of a truly classic and anthemic rock song: an attention-grabbing opening, a powerful hook, an extended vocal scream, and last but not least a bitchin' solo. (For those of you who are now realizing that I live in Adams House and are suspecting me of some homeground bias, let me assure you that one listen to this cut would be enough to dispel all your reservations as well as whatever wax has built up in your ears.) Although their songwriting was not always consistent and they occasionally leaned towards camp, as in the really slow and fast "Because You're Mine," the Bullet LaVolta set came through with the power of a late Sixties Led Zep club gig, wrenched by twenty more years of frustration and anger.
Such a spectacle was a tough act to follow, but Lemonheads' leaner, more straightforward attack held its own. Lemonheads cross catchy pop melodies with premium-fueled rockability riffs of the type Billy Zoom used to spew out with X. Although their simpler and more familier sound suffered a bit in comparison with Bullet LaVolta's complexity, Lemonheads came across live as a pop band with serious balls. A particular delight was "I Don't Wanna," an infectious single which could easily be played on WBCN but which never gave the impression of sucking up to the mainstream (for more on Lemonheads, see the review of their upcoming album).
All in all, the "Hate Your Friends" concert was a great show, the type that could have easily happened at the Rat or T.T. the Bears instead of Adams House, the type that should happen much more frequently at Harvard. You didn't have to pay $14. You didn't have to depend on the Harvard Undergraduate Council to set up the whole thing. It just goes to show, music does not have to wear a crown to be good.