Sweet on the outside, sour on the inside – The Lemonheads at the Biltmore Cabaret Vancouver, Nov 4 2011
- by Rachel Fox
Though I would never self-identify as a “Lemonhead,” as a woman who came of age in the grunge-infested 1990s it was near-impossible to not be aware of The Lemonheads, their music, and their not-entirely-unattractive lead singer.
Despite his heavily-storied troubles with drugs (it was the ’90s, after all), Evan Dando was something of an poster-boy for the alternative scene that dominated that decade. His particular brand of music stood out amongst the overwhelming mainstream alt pack in that his emotionally vulnerable and occasionally poppy songs existed somewhere between solo-accoustic-lovelorn and bouts of guitar-God-heavy.
In addition to being easy-on-the-eyes (validated by his inclusion in People Magazine‘s famous 1993 list of “the hottest”), there was that whole is-he-or-isn’t-he, on-again-off-again thing he had (or didn’t) with the virginal Juliana Hatfield. Sensitive, talented, decidedly attractive with a hint of bad-boy (maybe). Swoon.
Friday night’s sold-out show at The Biltmore Cabaret was full of ’90s holdovers like myself, a fact that was evident in the overwhelming number of plaid shirts visible among the crowd. Clearly, the opportunity to see Dando perform that seminal 1992 album It’s a Shame About Ray (in its entirety, for $13!) was too good to pass up. A quick trip to the merch table proved fruitless – I was surprised and annoyed at the lack of girl-sized T-shirt options, considering Dando’s estro-heavy female fanbase. Undaunted, I managed to position myself at the very foot of the stage on the left – about five feet from Dando.
Dressed casually in a sweater and t-shirt, his signature shoulder-length hair seemingly untouched by the sands of time, Dando appeared older but no less worse for wear than the last time I found myself at the foot of the stage for a Lemonheads show (Starfish Room, late ’90s). Alone but for a guitar, he walked onstage and played several songs, seemingly oblivious to the packed house before him. No banter, no eye contact. I was close enough to lick the sweat off his temple and really study his shoes.
Shortly thereafter the rest of the band (neither of whom are original Lemonheads - Lemonheads Lite?) came onstage, which seemed to cause Dando appear slightly more relaxed but, still, not entirely engaged. Heads shook and toes tapped along to the familiar tracks of the audience members’ youth, in a sedate and cerebral way befitting aged ’90s holdovers. The solo acoustic tracks and those performed with the band were solid but the show was bereft of “magic” moments, the kind that elevates a show to something memorable. Songs which appeared on the soundtrack to my youth held up live and I found myself emotionally drifting away into a sea blissful memories.
In spite of being close enough to rip Dando’s clothes off (it crossed my mind) I was as connected to the energy onstage as Dando was with his audience; inasmuch as the man for whom the receptive and admiring crowd came to see seemed utterly disengaged. My inner-17 year-old wasn’t even that psyched about having Dando play “Into Your Arms” directly in front of her.
Afterwards I found myself ruminating on the tone of the show with friends, all of whom had their own notions about Dando’s aloofness ranging from, “There’s no way he wanted to be here and he’s only doing it for the money” to a more forgiving, “Maybe he’s just really shy.”
Not every night on a tour is going to be a knockout and in truth, this particular night was rife with problems – including all three of the originally scheduled acts to have to bail for one reason or another. Regardless of all our post-show postulation, sadly, strangely, the overall impression was of a good show but not a great show. At one point I scribbled “electrified oatmeal” into my concert notes – extract from that what you will.
More photos of The Lemonheads (by Max Hirtz):