Sixteen years removed from headlining at The Riviera, Evan Dando and the current incarnation of The Lemonheads rolled into Chicago for a two-night stint at The Abbey Pub. On my way from the bar to the music room a woman asked me, “Who are these Lemonheads?” And the best I could come up with in layman’s terms was, “Their biggest claim to fame was covering Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson.” This got me to thinking of how odd it is to be best remembered for a cover song. Now, Mr. Dando is up to his old tricks again as this show was ostensibly to promote his upcoming covers album Varshons. (stream it in full at www.myspace.com/thelemonheads)
For 1 hour and 15 minutes the time machine in the Abbey’s music room was set to 1993. In a set that could only be described as uneven, a disheveled Dando led and oftentimes instructed his Lemonheads on the fly. However, there were plenty of peaks as they tore through the greatest hits of The Lemonheads Atlantic Records years with very little banter between songs. Songs like “Confetti” (or for the uninitiated ‘the kinda shoulda sorta woulda song’) and “Alison’s Starting To Happen” retained their pop ferocity and “Down About It” was as sunshiny as ever.
No doubt Dando and company were at their best impersonating the power pop band that broke through with It’s A Shame About Ray. The major flaw in Saturday’s performance was a solo electric set that overstayed its welcome at about the eighth song. I couldn’t help but think the songs would’ve fared better performed acoustically or more concisely. This portion of the show featured songs from Baby I’m Bored and an absolutely stellar cover of “A Song For You” by Dando’s lifelong hero Gram Parsons on which he sang, ‘So take me down to your dance floor/And I won’t mind the people when they stare.’
I give Dando credit for checking his ego at the door and providing the audience with a setlist containing exactly what they wanted. It is an interesting study to see someone that once commanded a much larger audience return to the ‘nostalgia’ circuit and deliver an effort surpassing just going through the motions. His voice doesn’t reach the same register it once did, but as the lyric to Saturday’s encore “Rudderless” showed, for Dando there may still be Hope in his past.