The Lemonheads at The Vogue
Friday, Jan. 20
I was a teenager during the 1990s, so there’s really no reason why I couldn’t have (or shouldn’t have) listened to The Lemonheads. I just didn’t. Not on purpose anyway; for a minute there in the early to mid '90s you couldn’t get away from their cover of “Mrs. Robinson.” But beyond that I just recall them being kind of middle-of-the-road: not quite pop, not quite alternative, not quite grunge. After seeing them (really, him) live on Friday night at the Vogue, I’m not necessarily ready to recant that pithy observation, but I will say I’m glad I got the chance to revisit their music and—if nothing else—cross another legendary name off my list.
Dando took the stage alone on Friday. Tall, lanky, and kind of hunched over, he wore a long-sleeved Boston Bruins T-shirt and jeans, his long hair parted in the middle. He mumbled a few words into the microphone, gave a self-satisfied chortle, and then started playing, opening the set with four solo songs on the acoustic.
It was an unusual and yet appropriate way to start the set; The Lemonheads are, essentially, Dando. The “band” has been through so many iterations and lineup changes over the years that Dando is literally the only constant. But it also put the spotlight on Dando’s songwriting which—upon close inspection—can be innocent and unselfconsciously funny while at the same time carry a tinge of teenage pain and confusion. He opened the acoustic mini-set with “Being Around” ("If you like me/If you love me/Would you get down on your knees and scrub me/I’m a little dirty from just being around"), and closed it with a cover of John Prine’s “Sam Stone” ("There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes").
After that, the rest of The Lemonheads took the stage and proceeded to bang out damn near all of Dando’s breakthrough 1992 album It’s a Shame About Ray. Starting with the upbeat, almost punky “Rockin’ Stroll,” they played every song on the album up through a quick version of “Bit Part” ("I want a bit part in your life/A walk on would be fine"). There I kind of lost track, but he definitely picked up the trail again with his cover of “Frank Mills,” a song from Hair (Note: if you get a chance, listen to the Ray version of this song. Obviously written for a female singer, it’s hilarious to hear Dando sing about what amounts to a man crush.)
Soon after that Dando switched back to the acoustic for “Ride With Me” and ultimately an acoustic version of the closest thing Dando ever came to an original hit single, “Into Your Arms,” a smooth, sunny and sweetly-strummed song with a commercial brightness that predated the Foo Fighters’ oddly similar hit “Big Me” by three years, but which didn’t get as much attention.
After that, Dando called a high school friend of his on stage and they did a covers of the Beastie Boys “Fight For Your Right,” and “Louie Louie,” and a half version of “House of the Rising Sun.” At that point I decided that my re-education in '90s alt-rock was finished for the evening. If he wowed the remaining crowd with a stunning performance of an entire side of Sgt. Pepper’s afterward, I apologize to my readers that I wasn’t there to witness it. I felt like I’d seen the best Dando had to offer, and I admit I was pleased.
Mass.-based Meredith Sheldon warmed up the crowd for The Lemonheads with a set of pretty straightforward, bass-heavy, new-wavey rock. Her voice and her vocal interludes came off a little bit like Jessica Lea Mayfield, but with a harder edge. Strong drum work and a wide variety of rhythms gave the tunes some serious backbone. Nashville-based Ranger started off the night in the same vein as Meredith Sheldon, with an innovative, bass heavy alt-rock sound.