The Lemonheads at First Avenue, 10/22/11


The Lemonheads
October 22, 2011
First Avenue

One of the last things you want to have happen before a notoriously temperamental rock star takes the stage is for his opening band to not show up. Thankfully, in the case of Saturday night's highly enjoyable set by the Lemonheads at First Avenue, the fact that openers the Shining Twins were a no-show didn't seem to affect Evan Dando's mood or composure in the least as he led his band through a potent, well-paced 75-minute set full of both slacker classics and well-chosen covers.

This is the It's A Shame About Ray tour for this current incarnation of the Lemonheads, with the band opening their set with a full run-through of the celebrated album in its entirety. And as they took the stage, it was nice to see Dando accompanied only by a drummer (Brian Nolan) and a bassist (Drew, who was playing with the band for the first time as a fill-in for Josh Lattanzi who, according to Dando, "Had to go home for a while"), for these simple but catchy songs would have been ruined by any additional, unnecessary instrumentation. They just need a guitar, bass, and drums to sound perfect. And while Dando's voice struggled to reach some high notes at the start of the show, he quickly found his pitch and remained in fine voice and spirits throughout the entire performance.

These nostalgia shows where bands play their classic albums from start to finish can justifiably be greeted with growing cynicism by music fans who just think of them as tiresome cash-grabs by past their prime groups who have nothing new to say. And while part of that argument is true, the simple fact is that these landmark albums are full of stone-cold classics that never get old for audiences that haven't grown tired of hearing them. So when the first notes of "Rockin Stroll" rang out in the nearly-full nightclub, we all were all taken on a ride that, while being familiar, was still full of both spirit and charm.

The Lemonheads at First Avenue, 10/22/11
Photo By Stacy Schwartz
The Lemonheads at First Avenue, 10/22/11
Photo By Stacy Schwartz

And Ray, if you haven't listened to the album in a while, is chock-full of hits, from the dynamic pulse of "Confetti" to the wistful allure of the title-track. In fact, all of side A is absolutely amazing, and Dando and his tight band did all these indelible songs justice, as "Rudderless" was injected with a feisty, churning tempo, and "My Drug Buddy" had a sad, forlorn elegance to it that, even if the song doesn't exactly resonate with Dando's current lifestyle, still brought most of the crowd back to their hazy college days.

Other than a quick hello at the start of the show, Dando didn't say anything to the crowd between songs, as the band charged quickly from one song to the next, making the breathless 30+ minute performance of the record go by that much faster. "Bit Part" was exceptional, as was "Alison's Starting To Happen," which featured a lively but brief guitar solo from Dando. After vibrant versions of "Kitchen" and "Ceiling Fan In My Spoon," Dando asked the audience if we knew that the riff from "Ceiling Fan" was "stolen from the film Night Of The Hunter where they are going down the river." He proceeded to playfully sing a snippet of the original song to us before playing a solo version of "Frank Mills" to close out the Ray portion of the set (with Evan wisely skipping the tacked-on cover of "Mrs. Robinson"--talk about a cash-grab on behalf of the record label--and sticking to the original running order of the record).

Dando then announced, "The album is over now, we're moving on to uncharted territory," as he tore through a seven-song solo portion of the show that featured just Evan, his trusty Gibson Les Paul, and an enthralling batch of tunes which keep us all entertained. He started with a lively version of "The Outdoor Type," before transitioning smoothly into an impassioned cover of Victoria Williams' "Frying Pan," which was featured on the renowned benefit album Sweet Relief. A solo set like this might just kill the momentum of a set entirely unless the artist has some killer songs in their arsenal, and Dando has some great ones to draw from, like "It's About Time" and "Being Around," which were both quite captivating.

The Lemonheads at First Avenue, 10/22/11
Photo By Stacy Schwartz
The Lemonheads at First Avenue, 10/22/11
Photo By Stacy Schwartz

He then closed his all-too-brief solo set with two choice covers. The first was a request from the crowd for "Divan" by the Australian band Smudge, who have collaborated with Dando frequently in the past. It was a quick but biting run through of a fun song before he played a lovely rendition of "Different Drum," the Mike Nesmith/Stone Poneys classic made famous by the vocals of Linda Ronstadt. It was a great way to end that portion of the show, with Dando completely in command of his faithful fans who packed First Ave for the night (the show was originally scheduled for the Entry, but was wisely moved to the Mainroom to accommodate a much bigger audience).

The band rejoined Dando for nine more songs that drew from different stages of the Lemonheads career, and each of them were delivered with a crisp intensity that suited the songs well. A blistering version of "Down About It" blended seamlessly into a fervent rendition of "Hospital." Dando proudly wore his First Avenue pass on the knee of his jeans throughout the whole show and seemed quite happy to be playing the renowned club once again. That level of comfort only added to the raw emotions of "Big Gay Heart,""Into Your Arms," and "The Great Big No," which all soared effortlessly as all good pop songs do. But it was the fiery spunk of "Style" which proved to be the highlight of the night, as the band urgently tore through the incendiary number as Dando's desperate vocals took on an added fervency.

The Lemonheads at First Avenue, 10/22/11
Photo By Stacy Schwartz

The Shining Twins eventually made it to the venue, and watched most of the set from the stairs leading backstage, and Dando graciously brought them out to sing one of their numbers with the band. And while "Greasy Bear" was fun (and the ecstatic girls were obviously enjoying themselves), if I would have known this was the last song we were going to get for the night, I would much rather have heard a Lemonheads song to close things out.

With the 10 o'clock time constraints of Too Much Love looming over the band, they unfortunately were forced to cut their set short. Dando even asked "Can we keep playing? What time is it?" before the band were ushered off, leaving "If I Could Talk" and "Stove" unplayed but on the evening's setlist. Hopefully, this just means that Evan Dando's work here is unfinished, and he will bring his acclaimed catalog of hits back to First Avenue sometime soon.

Critic's Bias: I listened to the Lemonheads a lot during my college days, and saw them play quite a few shows throughout the '90s, and this was actually one of the better live sets I've ever seen Evan Dando put on.

The Crowd: A large turnout of mostly thirty-somethings looking to relive some good times and great tunes.

Overheard In The Crowd: "Dando's haircut hasn't changed in 20 years."

Random Notebook Dump: I just don't understand why First Avenue forces these bands, who choose to play Minneapolis on a Saturday night as a subtle nod to the enduring musical appeal of our city, to end their sets by 10 o'clock. Most bands don't even start their sets until 10 or later on other stops of their tour. And it just seems like poor form to force a band that wants to keep playing to leave the stage while ushering a large crowd out of the club in favor of a dance night that won't hit its stride until midnight anyway.


Rockin Stroll


It's A Shame About Ray


My Drug Buddy

The Turnpike Down

Bit Part

Alison's Starting To Happen

Hannah & Gabi


Ceiling Fan In My Spoon

Frank Mills

The Outdooor Type

Frying Pan (Victoria Williams)

Why Do You Do This To Yourself

It's About Time

Being Around

Divan (Smudge)

Different Drum (Mike Nesmith/Stone Poneys)

Down About It


No Backbone


Big Gay Heart

Into Your Arms

The Great Big No


Greasy Bear (with the Shining Twins)

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