‘Twas a few nights before Christmas, when the Lemonheads rocked the house. It went by so fast, before you knew it, fans made their way out.
On Saturday, December 22, local hero Evan Dando and his newly reformed Lemonheads came to the downstairs section of the famed Middle East nightclub in Cambridge, MA and blazed their way through a set of 30 songs – two decades worth of music – in about an hour and a half.
At approximately 11:32 pm, bassist Karl Alvarez (ex-Descendents), husky drummer Bill Stevenson (ex-Descendents, Black Flag), and Dando took to the stage and warmed up their respective instruments for a minute or so before launching into first song, “Hospital.” Taken from 1996’s Car Button Cloth album, this easy-on-the-ears three-minute jangle pop number was a safe but delicious introduction to the evening.
Dando then stepped on his overdrive pedal for “Black Gown,” which appears on last year’s warmly received comeback album Lemonheads. Like many songs this night, the old school pop punk-sounding number was loud — almost too loud. But Evan and co. remained focused for most of the set, through intermittent squeals of noisy feedback, hearing-loss-inducing volume (from his Marshall amp) and all.
Alvarez, when not singing back up vocals, faced Dando practically the whole night (as if to make sure they were in sync every step of the way). He and drummer Bill Stevenson didn’t seem to miss a beat or vocal cue the whole night. The two aptly fulfilled their backing vocal roles on beloved songs like “The Great Big No”.
Dando, on the other hand twice aborted – then continued – songs. The first time was because he forgot to re-tune one string on his guitar for “Allison’s Starting To Happen.” That was probably due to the relentless pace of the show more than anything, which allowed for very little downtime between songs. [Excuses, excuses.]
The 40-year-old singer, with his hair significantly shorter than in years past and dressed in a Thurston Moore T-shirt showed no sign of age. The tall guitarist easily moved around the stage, sometimes soloing on one or two knees, and working up a sweat as time went on. Sure, there were signs of tiredness, as Dando missed the first part of the refrain to an otherwise spot-on version of the pop rocker “Rudderless.”
The band stayed true to other fan favorites like the slacker stoner proto-punk of “Style,” “My Drug Buddy,” and even got the audience involved on “Bit Part.” The Lemonheads’s poppier hits like “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You” and alt-country pop tunes like “Big Gay Heart” also made the set list, the latter of which was played during an 8-song solo electric set by Dando. He didn’t captivate the audience by himself quite like Paul Westerberg (one of his heroes) or Billy Bragg, as Dando often went from one song to the other without a break, and many people were seen talking as the solo set went on.
But momentum swung back to the Lemonheads’ favor during the last phase of the show, which included their biggest hit “Into Your Arms” (first recorded by Love Positions).
By the end of the show, it was quite clear that the band had a ball of a time on stage. Dando and Stevenson even traded instruments and played a quick punk-ish jam with Alvarez as the clock neared 1am.
And that was it. Evan came out from behind the drum kit, grabbed the mic, thanked us all for coming and subsequently left the stage. Smiles could be seen from the performers to the audience members, who were either filing out of the club, or waiting for the trio to come out to the back of the club to sign autographs for the adoring hometown crowd.
In all, it wasn’t a perfect show from a performance and sound standpoint, but that didn’t matter. This new version of the Lemonheads rocked like there was no tomorrow, perhaps in part due to the punk veterans Evan Dando recruited. It was as if he was on a mission to recapture the height of his punk and pop powers in one evening. Consider that Mission Accomplished.