Slacker icon turns 40 

Evan Dando’s Lemonheads share local ties

Evan Dando, the man behind the Lemonheads, is a relic from a different era of alternative rock. One of several post-punk descendents to reap huge praise and fan bases in the wake of Nirvana’s success, Dando and the Lemonheads once seemed destined for the rock and roll history books. Though the band is certainly still esteemed in many circles today, its story is also one of the more infamous tales of falling from grace.

Dando created the Lemonheads while still attending his suburban Boston high school in 1986 with friend Ben Deily. They shared lead vocals in this early incarnation of the band and performed fierce punk-fueled rock a bit derivative of the Replacements or Husker Dü. Deily eventually left the band in 1989 and, since then, Dando has been the only stationary member.

After a brief stint in the major label underground, the Lemonheads’ breakthrough came in 1992 with the album It’s a Shame About Ray, which went gold and featured a cover of “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel. This was a year after Nirvana’s Nevermind blew open the doors for what contemporary pop could be, and America was swooning for things that weren’t the typical fare of the day, i.e. Mariah Carey or Boyz II Men. Dando became a superstar, appearing on the cover of teen magazines, photographed with high profile celebrities; he was even named one of People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People.” Dando was the slacker icon.

This precipitated the inevitable backslide, however, as Dando became seen as a wussified poster boy by the devoted underground rock scene. A fanzine was created called Die Evan Dando, Die, and Dando’s own drug and alcohol problems began to alienate him from his core audience of youngsters not yet hip to Jim Beam. The band officially took a break in 1998, and Dando went into a prolonged seclusion.

Eventually, he cleaned up his act and began popping up in random places, most significantly with the solo album Baby, I’m Bored in 2003. In 2005, Dando returned to the studio intending to record a Lemonheads comeback record. He enlisted Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez, formerly of the famed punk band the Descendents, as his backup band and also got helping hands from J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. and Garth Hudson of the Band. The album was released in 2006 and garnered favorable reviews, proclaiming it a return to form.

Dando delivers several good up-tempo tunes and a driving guitar sound on The Lemonheads, and he sounds noticeably older, a bit like Warren Zevon. The album seems a bit out of context with today’s indie-rock sensibilities of anonymity and abstraction, but given that Dando turns 40 next month, it’s a product from a different time. It may be an obvious move financially and artistically, but it’s not out of step with his aesthetics historically. Dando’s backing band is made up of Indianapolis natives and former Pieces’ members Vess Ruhtenberg and Devon Ashley.

The Lemonheads show at the Vogue Friday should be quite an event due to its local ties, but it will also be memorable and all the more enjoyable for the opening acts. Vietnam, which is traveling with the Lemonheads, is a New York band picking up steam and recognition with its orchestrated Velvet Underground feel. Also performing will be Everthus the Deadbeats, a local band signed to the Indianapolis-based Standard Recording Company. With a great debut EP, Addicts Stuck in Traffic, now out, the band’s Beach Boys take on pop music is getting some local and national notice.

What: The Lemonheads, Vietnam, We Are Hex, Everthus the Deadbeats
When: Friday, Feb. 16, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Vogue, 21+
Tickets: $17-$20

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