Live: The Lemonheads

The Lemonheads pic #1

THE SCOUT BAR -- 2/8/2007: Hiding behind a cream-colored beanie and an I Clover New York t-shirt, Evan Dando made his way unassumingly onstage at Clear Lake's answer to live music, The Scout Bar. Accompanied by Vess Ruhtenberg (bass) and Devon Ashley (drums) of The Pieces, The Lemonheads began their first tour in over a decade just a few short weeks beforehand. The Houston leg of their tour was spent playing to a decent-sized crowd of mostly male fans (some surprisingly younger than expected).
The band got right down to business, playing a few of their more popular old school tunes, like "Down About It," "Great Big No," and "Big Gay Heart" off of Come On Feel the Lemonheads. In fact, over half their set was vintage Lemonheads, and while it was fabulous to listen to, there was just something missing. Juliana Hatfield's addition in the early years really made a huge difference in the delivery of their music -- the collaboration was spot-on, and the energy between Dando and Hatfield translated incredibly well on stage (see: The Lemonheads at the long-lost Tower Theatre, circa 1993).
This time around, though, there were many moments when the show was lackluster. The physical space between Dando and Ruhtenberg (they might as well have been playing on different stages altogether) onstage was symbolic of a disconnection in the music being belted out by the trio. Having played together for some time, Ruhtenberg and Ashley had a musical camaraderie that was apparent and enjoyable to watch. Overall, though, it felt more like "frontman Evan Dando and special guests" than it did a collaborative effort. Even when they were playing songs off the new album, tracks like "No Backbone," "Pittsburgh," and "Black Gown," the band just didn't seem to mesh as well live as it did on the album. This tour really isn't The Lemonheads (though just who "The Lemonheads" are is debatable) playing; it was Evan Dando and a couple of great musicians playing songs Evan Dando and two other amazing musicians created.
With all that said, there really were some memorable highlights to the evening. The main attraction of the night was, hands down, the drumming goodness of Devon Ashley. His jovial personality and awe-inspiring dexterity became increasingly apparent with every drumbeat. Had the enthusiasm he exuded during every moment of that show permeated the rest of the band, we would have had a killer show on our hands.
The halftime portion of the night brought with it a solo acoustic performance from Dando that was reminiscent of his brief bout as a solo artist. He took song requests from the crowd and coyly strummed his picture-plastered guitar to many an old tune. Rounding out the experience was a fantastic encore of "Rudderless," in all its toe-tapping, head-bopping glory.
A decade later, Evan Dando's boyish charm and laid-back style still have the potential to woo fans both new and old. The perplexing thing, though, is how Dando was able to take the new album out on tour without bringing his new bandmates and musical collaborators Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez (of The Descendents) with him. Though this performance had moments of bittersweet nostalgia, it lacked the synergy that was evident all through The Lemonheads. END