We Love Music: The Lemonheads @ Black Cat, 10/7/2011


photo by Justin Feller

A word to the wise: don’t try to relive the past- you will inevitably be disappointed. In the weeks leading up to The Lemonheads show at Black Cat last Friday I was excited. Excited at the thought of hearing the album It’s A Shame About Ray performed top to bottom by the dreamy pop-rock idol Evan Dando and whoever else he was calling The Lemonheads this time around. Excited to be momentarily transported back to 1992, and the happy state that album put me in. I first heard that album when I was in middle school, and got to meet Dando several times from then on at various in-store appearances, including Kemp Mill Records in Georgetown (R.I.P.) and Tower Records in Foggy Bottom (R.I.P.). (To the kids of today- there used to be things called record stores, and artists used to make appearances/perform/autograph in them for publicity while trying to promote their albums.)

 So I was a fan from a young age, and saw Dando in his prime. He is no longer in his prime. (This has nothing to do with age, by the way) I think it is partly because I was a fan since I was 12 or 13, and had seen him up close (I have a picture of 13 y/o me with Dando), that I was so blown away and shocked by the sad state he appears to be in now. But I’m trying to write a music review, so before I address the crisis that is Evan Dando, I will talk about the music.

If I had been blindfolded, or had been far enough back in the crowd to not see Evan Dando well, I might have enjoyed the evening of music. His touring bassist and drummer were clearly talented, and kept the music bouncing and lively while they were playing . Also, Dando’s fingers clearly remember how to play the guitar, he sailed through the songs without any major slip-ups. But from the beginning of “Rockin’ Stroll,” the first song on the album and the set, it was clear that his voice was not at its best. It sounded worn out, strained, like he was sick, and he couldn’t hit the high notes, or belt anything out particularly strongly. His voice did improve some as the set went on, though, I guess he warmed up. The band played through the short album Its A Shame About Ray, with high points on “My Drug Buddy” (the crowd sang along) and “Bit Part.” Unfortunately left out of the set was their better-than-the-original cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” which appeared as a bonus track on the album, and had a big part in shooting The Lemonheads to mainstream popularity in the early 90s. At this point the drummer and bassist exited the stage, leaving Dando alone to do a set of songs by himself. They rejoined him a bit later for some later hits including “Great Big No,” “Down About It,”  “Big Gay Heart,” and “Style” from the 1993 release Come on Feel the Lemonheads. The lyrics of “Style” seemed particularly appropriate for the evening “Don’t wanna get stoned, don’t wanna get stoned; but I don’t wanna not get stoned, I don’t wanna not get stoned.” The evening ended with Dando playing solo again, coming out for a weird, anti-climactic encore- he finished his last song and ducked off stage before people even had a chance to clap. The audience waited for him to come back onstage, but then the house lights went up.

Evan Dando at Black Cat

photo by Justin Feller

 Now, here’s why even though I love The Lemonheads, I couldn’t enjoy myself. Evan Dando looked very unwell. He looked the kind of unwell that can only be explained by serious hardcore drug-addiction or some other kind of life-threatening illness. He seemed weak and fragile. I think the only way he is skating by without more people saying something about his state of being is his bone-structure (he takes a good picture and looks fine from a distance) and his ability to play his songs despite his physically deteriorated state. Maybe he is surrounding himself with people who won’t question him, or who are along for the ride. His bandmates were different from the last time I saw him (five years ago) and back then they were different from the original Lemonheads lineup. He is forty-four years old! He should not look this bad! He couldn’t keep his eyes open half the time, and when they were open they looked…unhealthy: glazed over, the whites not white enough. At one point he almost fell over, and it was not from rocking out. It was like when an old person loses their balance- so fragile, and you could see a little fear in his face. He looked vulnerable, and it was tragic. I can easily say this was the most depressing show I have been to in my memory. And I saw Elliott Smith perform in the year before his death. I say this with love-please Evan, get help!

Alexia Kauffman

Alexia was born and raised in Arlington, VA. She has been a cellist since age four, and a lover of rock & roll soon after. The first tape she owned was “Make It Big” by Wham, and the first tape she bought was Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” and she still loves both. She was a member of local synth-rock outfit Soft Complex for several years, and has recorded with bands including Engine Down and Two if By Sea. By day she works for a non-profit distributing royalties to musicians and labels. She currently plays cello, lap-steel guitar and tambourine in the DC post-folk/Americana band The Torches.

5 thoughts on “We Love Music: The Lemonheads @ Black Cat, 10/7/2011

  1. He was in much better shape than when we saw him with Juliana Hatfield at IOTA early in 2010. AT that show he seemed far deeper in the drug hole than he did at this show.

  2. I talked to him before and after the show. He was sick and had a throat problem. He did his best to perform and although he started out rough he did improve throughout the show. His band did play well no doubt. I thought the show was great particularly when he played numerous requests shouted out from the crowd. Everyone I spoke with after the show thought it was very entertaining. I thought the last song, wine covered grass” was a great close. I would not say it was anti climactic but rather a quiet ending. Considering the intimate house feeling at the Black Cat, it was well chosen. Dando gave a great show. He may not be the teen idol he was in 1992, but that’s rock n roll. His songs and performance still carried the day.

  3. I agree that musically there wasn’t much of anything to complain about with the show! But attributing his deteriorated state to “rock n roll” is bullsh*t. It has been documented and Dando admits to being a drug addict, and that is what is going on here, not “rock n roll.” Try googling “Evan Dando” and you’ll see the auto-fill results “Evan Dando drugs” and “Evan Dando crack” come up at the top. You can be a rock star and not a practicing drug addict. Chris Cornell is a shining example of someone who got help with addiction,kicked his habits and is now performing better than ever, and looks amazing. There is hope, but denial helps no one.

  4. I am not contesting past addiction. I know the history. I am just saying that he did not look strung out, wasted, etc. Notwithstanding what he seemed like on stage, I talked to him before and after the show as in an actual conversation about the vineyard and some random connection. He seemed pretty clear. I am not some grand fan. It was just a show with some rough patches and a few shiny parts as well. No reason to push the past to the present. Anybody, musician or not, should get help. Addiction is no joke. My comment about him not looking the same in 92 is bc that was almost 20 years ago. If the battle is back on I wish him the best. Either way it was a good show.