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The Lemonheads

The Lemonheads at Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia, PA, June 24th, 2009

Jul 04, 2009 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Since his heyday in the early ‘90s, Evan Dando and his Lemonheads have had somewhat of a rocky time. Reports of drug use and the collapse of the band in 1997 preceded an extended hiatus from music that threatened to end Dando’s career. He came back, seemingly out of nowhere, in 2003 for the understated solo album, Baby I’m Bored, and then returned under the Lemonheads name in 2006, albeit with a completely retooled lineup. In June, The Lemonheads released Varshons, an album of cover songs recorded with yet another group of players, but still under the Lemonheads name.

This summer, Dando and his band of ex-Zero Boys’ Vess Ruhtenberg (bass), Mark Cutsinger (drums), and Xan Aird (guitar) have been touring in support of Varshons, playing sets made up of a variety of Lemonheads material (It’s A Shame About Ray­-era and later) as well as select covers from Varshons. Reports from the road thus far have been mixed. Reviews have commented on Dando’s disheveled appearance and sloppy musicianship, a tendency to bathe his pop songs in guitar squall and feedback, and, in one particularly sad report, Dando’s forgetting lyrics, stopping-and-starting songs, and presenting in overall musical disarray. Regarding the second charge, Dando is no stranger to engulfing his melodic ditties in noise. Touring last year’s self-titled “reunion” album in a show this reviewer took in at The Chameleon Club in Lancaster, PA, Dando’s band ripped through Lemonheads classics with a fury that harkened to the band’s pre-Ray punk rock days rather than its sing-along “Mrs. Robinson” era.

Tonight at Johnny Brenda’s, a small club in Philadelphia’s revitalized Fishtown area, Dando’s Lemonheads set was a bit of a mix. Taking the stage in ripped jeans and t-shirt, and sporting a few-weeks-old beard, Dando blazed headlong into a set that was heavy on the melodic gems from his band’s more popular days. Early on, the capacity crowd was taken aback by the electric intensity of the performance, which tended to drown out Dando’s singing, but shouts from the crowd to turn up the vocals fell on deaf ears. While Dando and company ran through heavier versions of favorites like “Into Your Arms,” “Hospital,” “The Great Big No,” and “It’s A Shame About Ray” during the set proper, short solo electric sets in the middle and end of the show proved more what the crowd had been waiting for, with Dando’s performance on songs like “Outdoor Type,” “Being Around,” and “Frank Mills” more closely resembling the recorded versions.

It isn’t clear how Dando is conceptualizing The Lemonheads at this stage of his career. Two different bands on two different albums suggest a lack of consistency, and although this tour supported an album of cover tunes, only three tunes from that album (Randy Alvey & The Green Fuz’s “Green Fuz,” Fuckemos’ “New Mexico,” and G.G. Allin’s “Layin’ Up With Linda”) were present in tonight’s set. Dando spoke nothing to the crowd with the exception of a brief mid-set “thank you,” and though the show was heavy on recognizable favorites, the crowd enthusiasm did not really seem to register with the band—Dando and company simply chugged along through its documented set list. But those who looked past the nostalgia heard someone unafraid to follow his muse, unconcerned with perception or expectation, and an artist perfectly willing to deconstruct and reconstruct the songs most recognizable to his constituency.

Dando ended the night with a brief 4-song solo encore, concluding with his version of The Misfits’ “Skulls.” Then, after seeming to start another song, Dando simply stopped, put his guitar down and walked off, as unceremoniously as he arrived, and with nary a word.

Set List:

Down About It


Green Fuz (Randy Alvey & The Green Fuz)

My Drug Buddy

It’s A Shame About Ray


Big Gay Heart

New Mexico (Fuckemos)


Into Your Arms


Why Do You Do This To Yourself

The Great Big No


The Outdoor Type


Being Around

Alison’s Starting To Happen

Layin’ Up With Linda (G.G. Allin)

If I Could Talk I’d Tell You



Hannah & Gabi

Frying Pan (Victoria Williams)

Frank Mills

Skulls (The Misfits)


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