at Lee's Palace, Toronto
12th December 2006
Review by Ben Rayner from The Toronto Star
Juice from Lemonheads
Band died long ago, R.I.P., now ex-leader Dando ably reprises its hallowed songbook
As valiantly as he might have once tried to kill the Lemonheads' career, Evan Dando could never kill the Lemonheads' songs.
Times and trends have moved on since the alt-rock era that ushered the Boston jangle-pop outfit to the brink of stardom and an abrupt, narcotics-fuelled collapse, but the records produced by the Lemonheads at their sparkling peak — 1992's essential It's a Shame About Ray and the following year's just slightly lesser Come On Feel the Lemonheads — remain fond staples of their devotees' playlists. And while much of the music released by others at that time now sounds dated (listened to Soundgarden or Alice in Chains lately, for instance?), Dando's brisk, chiming punk-rock-for-pussies hasn't aged a bit.
The dude really does have a wealth of timeless tunes at his disposal. Hence the notably gleeful mood at Lee's Palace on Tuesday night, where the reformed Lemonheads made their return to a Toronto stage after eight years in oblivion before a packed, partisan house that greeted each successive Dando ditty as bubblegum gospel. "It's just hit after hit after hit," remarked a friend when the trio kicked into the oft-forgotten Ray favourite "Rudderless," and it certainly felt that way.
Admittedly, the revived Lemonheads are basically a Dando solo act, with bassist Vess Ruhtenberg and drummer Devon Ashley subbing for the potent pairing of the Descendents' Karl Alvarez and Bill Stevenson that made the band's recent, self-titled comeback album such a pleasant surprise.
But Dando — who tripped through town a couple of times in recent years with a shaky acoustic gig at the Horseshoe and an even more dubious turn as front man for the reunited MC5 — has always been the lone constant of the 20-year Lemonheads franchise and the songs are all his anyway, so it was a pleasure to hear him re-embracing the catalogue with electricity and enthusiasm.
If there was one complaint, it would be the absence of ex-Lemonheads collaborator Juliana Hatfield's high harmonies on older tunes like "Bit Part," "It's About Time" and the sweet co-dependence anthem "My Drug Buddy" (recently named by Pink Floyd's David Gilmour in Q magazine as the one tune of the last 20 years he wishes he'd written).
Dando's rich near-baritone nevertheless stood firm on its own, and even though he rather sneakily had a second guitarist doubling the solos behind the soundboard, such strong new tunes as the textbook "Pittsburgh" and the thoughtful, mature "Become the Enemy" betrayed no deterioration in his way with a tune.
One had but to canvass the numerous local musicians, writers and scenesters swapping their favourite Lemonheads titles in the crowd ("The Great Big No," "Alison's Starting to Happen," the Ray album's lovely acoustic cover of Hair's "Frank Mills" among the popular requests) to realize the respect in which Dando's songbook is held.
It would be nice to see him stick around long enough to soak it up a bit this time.