Review and photographs by Kirsten Ferguson
Just before the Lemonheads appeared onstage at Northern Lights to play their much-loved 1992 album “It’s a Shame About Ray” in entirety, a fan opined skeptically, “This could be very good, or it could be an unmitigated disaster.”
Really, it ended up being neither. Or both. Depending on whom you asked.
By 10:30, another fan had taken to singing, “It’s a shaaaame they won’t play,” until frontman Evan Dando finally arrived onstage, looking a bit lost and very Dandoish in a striped red shirt, his dirty blonde hair disheveled and his feet sockless in Vans.
Alone with an acoustic guitar, he opened with the early Lemonheads song “Being Around,” a song that contains the sweetly memorable lines: “If I was a booger would you blow your nose? Where would you keep it? Would you eat it?”
Two songs later he played “Why Do You Do This to Yourself” from his solo album, “Baby I’m Bored,” about a person who stays up for days engaging in self-destructive behavior. Although the narrator could have been chastening someone else, the song seemed just as likely to be about Dando himself.
The truth is – although he played competently and his voice sounded fine, even beautiful in spots – Dando didn’t look that great. By the time he brought his band out to play the songs from “Ray,” a group of women near the stage were grumbling.
“He looks so wasted,” one griped. If you were close enough to the stage, you could see it in his face – his eyes just weren’t there.
Bassist Fred Mascherino and drummer Chuck Treece were gamely feeling their way through their second gig as Lemonheads, and the band blasted quickly through the “Ray” songs from start to finish, skipping “Mrs. Robinson,” the Simon and Garfunkel song that became a hit single for the Lemonheads after the album’s release (and was tacked on to its reissue).
“It’s a short album,” Dando mumbled when it was over. With his band offstage again, he launched into an acoustic set, notably including sparse covers of the Michael Nesmith-penned, Linda Ronstadt-popularized song “Different Drum,” along with Gram Parsons’ “In My Hour of Darkness” and Victoria Williams’ “Frying Pan.”
He started losing some of the crowd as the acoustic set stretched on, but eventually the band returned and added some vigor with a short set that included “Big Gay Heart” and “Style,” which captures all the ambivalence of chronic drug use (“I don’t wanna get high/But I don’t wanna not get high”).
“It’s a brand new band, and I’m really happy with them, but we don’t know that many songs yet,” Dando said as Treece and Mascherino again left the stage and Dando embarked on a final acoustic set, which included a cover of Big Star’s sorrowful “Nightime” and crowd-pleaser “Into Your Arms.”
With a show that spanned 30 or so songs from throughout the Lemonheads’ history (although regrettably nothing from the “Hate Your Friends” album), no one could say they were ripped off, really. If anything, Dando played too long.
But people pay to see performers in a live setting not only for the set list. They also want to connect – and it’s hard to connect with somebody who appears to be out of it in a physically impaired, mind-altered way. “It hurts me,” a longtime fan complained after the show. “He could barely stand.”
A trio of openers who wanted to be on stage, and were hungry to play, only heightened the contrast. Mascherino (who also plays in the group Terrible Things) started the night with a few quiet acoustic songs, including an inventive cover of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.”
Meredith Sheldon, a promising singer/guitarist with a great voice, veered from languid to punkish with her band on a handful of inspired, ‘90s-influenced pop-rock tunes.
And Albany’s Charlie Watts Riots – rocking their new trio format of drummer Joe Putrock, guitarist Seth Powell and bassist Mike Pauley – sounded better than ever, blasting through a set that included “Got No Idea” and a great new just-written tune, “Drunken Sailor.”
THE LEMONHEADS SET LIST
The Outdoor Type
Why Do You Do This to Yourself
It’s a Shame About Ray
My Drug Buddy
The Turnpike Down
Alison’s Starting to Happen
Hannah & Gabi
Ceiling Fan in My Spoon
Different Drum (Michael Nesmith)
Your Home Is Where You’re Happy
In My Hour of Darkness (Gram Parsons)
Frying Pan (Victoria Williams)
Down About It
If I Could Talk I’d Tell You
Big Gay Heart
The Great Big No
Ride with Me
Left for Dead
It Looks Like You
Nightime (Big Star)
It’s About Time