Twenty years ago, the Lemonheads released their classic album, It's a Shame about Ray, during the period just after Nirvana broke down the walls to let all the underground rock into the mainstream party. Saturday night at the Old Rock House, Generation X came to honor that time they remember with great fondness.
In fact, the last time I saw an audience that was so tight within a demographic, I was still in high school attending shows hosted by bands at VFW halls. I'm willing to wager a $50 bill that there were very few people in attendance at the concert under the age of 30 and very few over the age of 40. For this show, the concert-goers, firmly between those two ages, graduated from high school during the '90s when "Alternative" was all the rage.
By the time the Lemonheads took the stage just after 9:30 the St. Louis audience was ready to relive some nostalgia. From my vantage point, half way back on the main floor, the 44-year-old Dando looked exactly the same as he did 20 years ago. With his long dirty blonde hair hanging straight around his face, he exuded a look of stoner cool in his black western shirt over blue jeans.
While Dando might have looked scrumptious to the 30-something moms in the audience, his social skills left much to be desired. Besides the thousands of words he sang from the microphone, Dando only uttered approximately 25 words between songs. He’d certainly give Jay Farrar a run for his money for fewest words spoken during a live set.
Even though opener Meredith Shelton opened the show with a half-hour set, Dando essentially opened the Lemonheads portion of the evening by performing a short set of songs on his Takamine acoustic guitar. Remarkably, Dando squeezed six songs into a 13 minute burst as he ripped through a mix of originals and covers that served to warm up Dando’s voice and guitar playing from the cold January evening. This first portion of the set included a couple by Tom Morgan from the Australian band Smudge who co-wrote a couple of songs from It’s a Shame about Ray and surprising take on the Louvin brothers classic “The Christian Life.”
After the acoustic portion, Dando welcomed the two hired guns he brought along with him to recreate the classic 1992 Lemonheads album. Bassist Fred Mascherino (formerly Taking Back Sunday) and session drummer Chuck Treece, who has also toured with Bad Brains and Urge Overkill, held down the back beat like consummate professionals.
Picking up his Gibson SG, Dando began the opening riff for “Rockin’ Stroll” and the building finally became electric. With the focus on Dando delivered the goods during this second portion of the set. After reading about horror stories from other tour stops, the trio seemed like a tight, well-rehearsed unit. Dando’s chord changes were smooth and the guitar solos a little loose and fun.
While Mascherino added some backing vocals during the set, the songs lacked a recreation of the originals laid down by Juliana Hatfield. Though I don’t expect bands to recreate albums to perfection, the backing vocals are a highlight of this album and were sorely missed. That said Mascherino and Treece played as a tight rhythm section the entire time. Treece’s drumming especially stood out as a highlight of the evening as he worked up a lather and held the songs together effortlessly. He was a joy to watch behind the kit.
During this album portion the songs moved fast and furious. Originally under 30 minutes, the songs on the album -- though short to begin with -- flashed as quick as the road video being displayed behind the band. Highlights included the title track and “Alison’s Starting to Happen.” Even though he seemed bored saying, “I just want a bit part in your life” to open the song “Bit Part,” Dando, to his credit, kept it together throughout.
A little over halfway through the album portion during “Kitchen” a fan climbed on stage to dance in the middle. The band – and any security personnel staged at the venue for that matter - seemed to ignore him. Eventually, he stopped and just got down to rejoin the crowd. I was more than a little disappointed that he never attempted or even signaled a stage dive. I guess we’re all getting older and some trends don’t bear repeating at this age.
After the crowd joined in on a sing-a-long of “Frank Mills,” a cover from the musical Hair, Dando strangely ushered Mascherino and Treece off stage. He tried to play the classic cover of “Mrs. Robinson” solo, however, he didn’t get very far before abandoning the song entirely. Over the microphone could be heard muttering, “I can’t even fake my way through it” – a let down for sure, but not unexpected.
The third portion of the show became a bit uneven as Dando’s lyrics became further muffled and the band performed songs that had obviously seen less rehearsal time. As the band played songs from the follow up Come On Feel The Lemonheads, Car Button Cloth and even a couple from his 2003 solo album Baby, I’m Bored, the band still used much of the room’s energy from the album portion of the set, but that was slowly releasing like air from a balloon.
Late in the set Dando gave his appreciation for the strong turnout by stating to the St. Louis audience, “Thanks for coming out tonight.” Briefly thinking about where he was he tossed off the comment, "Went to a rave here in the '90s they had them in these warehouse buildings,” but the only potential story of the evening went nowhere.
The unfortunate part of the evening was that much of the crowd were unaware of songs before or after the cuts from It’s a Shame about Ray. Dando created a classic album of the ‘90s that still holds up today, but a good majority of his other work doesn’t benefit from the same strong collection of songs. To paraphrase the line from “Confetti” Dando “kinda, shouda, sorta, woulda” put on a great show if he felt like it. Like the career of the Lemonheads after It’s a Shame about Ray the show just seemed to slowly go down hill, which is the real shame.
The Lemonheads set list
Being Around (acoustic)
Hard Drive (acoustic)
My Idea (acoustic) (T. Morgan/C. Brokaw)
All My Life (acoustic) (B. Lee)
The Christian Life (acoustic) (Charles Louvin/Ira Louvin)
The Outdoor Type (acoustic) (Tom Morgan)
It's a Shame about Ray
It's a Shame about Ray
My Drug Buddy
The Turnpike Down
? 12 bar blues short made up
Alison's Starting to Happen
Hannah & Gabi
Ceiling Fan in my Spoon
Mrs. Robinson [excerpt] (Paul Simon)
The Great Big No
Why Do You Do This to Yourself
In the Grass All Wine Colored
Laying Up With Lynda (G.G. Allin)
Ride With Me
How Much I've Lied (Gram Parsons/David Rifkin)
Rick James Style