Seeing Evan Dando & SPOTWLFY #008 - Evan Dando and the Lemonheads

1 comment

If we had to classify the 90s alt-rock, college music scene, we might go about it something like this:

Grunge - See Kurt Cobain, Hole, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, etc.
Nerd-grunge - See Weezer
Country-grunge - See Uncle Tupelo & its remnants Son Volt, Wilco, etc.
British-rock - See Radiohead

That still leaves us with the problem of The Lemonheads, an on again off-again Boston, MA group fronted and founded by Evan Dando.  What separates The Lemonheads and Dando's music in particular from everything around it is its eclectic base.  The records swing from tongue in cheek country tunes to aggressive guitar-driven tunes with sublime choruses to self-depreciating pop.  The name itself, "The Lemonheads" is a fantastic description of the charm of Dando's tracks -- sweet on the outside and sour in the middle.  Case in point is the apathetic love song "It's About Time" which swings from a lazy strum to a syncopated bridge where Dando's voice takes on a totally different tune as he intones:  "Enough about us let's talk about me / It's not about you, it's not about sunshine" before Juliana Hatfield's voice soars over the top.  Amid the jangling guitars and the shimmering choruses, Dando's voice always seems hiding behind the smile.  Even in the most majestic moments, there's melancholy in the air.

Dando is notoriously destructive.  When trying to kick out Ben Deily, another co-founder of The Lemonheads, after their first commercial success, Dando repeatedly played the guitar riff for "Sweet Child 'O Mine" over Deily's songs while on tour.  Just as precarious was Dando's use of crack which emerges again and again in his lyrics like "My Drug Buddy," a sort of answer to Lou Reed's classic "Waitin' for the Man."  But can we count on biography to somehow give us insight into an artist, or does the work speak for itself?  Can work speak without acknowledging the past, the mishaps, the mistakes, the problems?

Well, that's neither here nor there.  Dando's last album with original tracks (The Lemonheads put out an album of covers entitled Varshons in 2009), Baby I'm Bored (a suitably apathetic title), came out in 2003.  Including a number of tracks with Jon Brion, it's the most consistent of Dando's career as he's able to use the slacker frontman aesthetic for something that it's rarely used for -- reflection.  Dando has always been one of the most sour and self-critical songwriters (see the amazing "The Outdoor Type").  Even The Lemonheads' mainstream breakout a cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" is slick with sarcasm.  The sing-a-long chorus is blazed through and over glossed with heavy drumming.  But on Baby he's deftly aware of himself.  Opener "Repeat" laments the failings and miseries of a consumate outsider.

We'll hear a lot from Dando & the Lemonheads this year as they put out Laughing All the Way to the Cleaners, a 47 track retrospective, and The Hotel Sessions, recorded in a hotel room in Australia as Dando put down demos of new tracks with commentary and just an acoustic guitar.  Then there's the tour beginning on the 11th of January at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn.  For more info on the tour, go here.

Meanwhile, here's the mix:

1 comment:

  1. Good thoughts, thanks for this. Seeing them tonight in Pittsburgh, don't know all that much about 'em.