Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Lemonheads, The Shining Twins @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (October 17, 2011)

Evan Dando @ Lee's Palace: photo by Michael Ligon

After a steady diet of The Smiths, New Order, The Cure and and The Jesus and Mary Chain in the late 80's, the 90's were to usher in a shift in my musical tastes. discovered the Pixies and their eclectic musical stew of surf, garage, punk and pop just prior to their breakup and their last album, 1991's "Trompe Le Monde". The musical axis of 1991 and 1992 of course was dominated for me and many others by Seattle's Nirvana and their 1991 major label debut "Nevermind", a vibrant combination of grungy guitars and pop melodies. On the other end of the Atlantic, Scottish power-pop outfit Teenage Fanclub also released their major label debut album in 1991 entitled "Bandwagonesque". But of that time period, I would say the album that has most stuck with me was The Lemonheads' 1992 alt-pop classic "It's A Shame About Ray". Led by singer songwriter Evan Dando, up until that point, the band had gone through a few configurations and had released 3 indie albums and one major label album. But with the release of "It's A Shame About Ray", the band became bona-fide alt-rock stars, and Evan Dando a musical pin-up poster boy for many female musical fans(and I imagine some male music fans). For me, "It's A Shame About Ray" was a logical extension of my alternative pop tastes in the 80's and it was a voluptuously hummable album from start to finish. On another level, the album was important to me because while they were already on a major label at the time, my musical research into the band at the time, opened me up to their indie history and well of course the burgeoning American indie rock scene. With Nirvana's "Nevermind", 1991 may have been the year that punk broke, and Nirvana the voice of a new generation but The Lemonheads' "It's A Shame About Ray" was a far more influential album for me.

I'd seen The Lemonheads (well Evan Dando and whomever his touring band was) play Toronto in 2006 at Lee's Palace and more recently had the pleasure of seeing Dando and his dear musical friend Juliana Hatfield perform a set of Lemonheads and Hatfield songs acoustically earlier this year. When I heard that in honour of the 20th anniversary of "It's A Shame About Ray", Dando was going to tour as The Lemonheads and perform the entire album, I was super excited. It'd have been cool for consistency sake if the album's original lineup was touring, with Juliana Hatfield on bass/vocals and David Ryan on drums, but for this tour Dando brought in some replacements, bassist Josh Lattanzi(The Candles) and drummer Brian Nolan (American Hi-Fi). Hey, I'll take what I can get.

Opening the show was New York City punk duo The Shining Twins, consisting of Alex Weiss and Marisa Kreiss. My own superficial research into the band reveals that it was only within the last few years that the duo learned to play their instruments, that being drums and bass guitar, and it does show. And while the band may have rudimentary musicianship it does in no way detract from the gals musicality, with nods to old school punk and their sound also reminding me of the DIY ethics of the American West Coast K Records scene of the 90's. Perhaps to relive some of the old punk rock energy of The Lemonheads' earlier albums, Evan Dando joined them on guitar and some vocals for the gals' last song.

Given the brevity of "It's A Shame About A Ray", running approximately a half hour, had the show been confined just to the album itself, it'd have been a short show so thankfully Evan included a number of other Lemonheads' goodies. The band first ran through the entire album minus the cover of Simon and Garfunkel's 'Mrs. Robinson' which Evan chose not to perform and wasn't on the original pressings of the album anyway. Compared to the record, the performance felt grittier, especially in the guitar sound making everything that much better in my opinion. It was quite apparent that on songs like 'My Drug Buddy' and 'Bit Part', Juliana Hatfield's vocals were missed. Looking up at Dando on stage, it's almost like he'd never aged with his stringy hair and sleepy look staring down upon us like most of us remembered him 20 years ago and that sense of nostalgia that many of us in the crowd had was exhilarating.

As good as the first part of the show was, the remainder of the set felt equally as good. Dando's bandmates would leave the stage to let Dando perform a bunch of songs solo before returning later to play out the rest of the set. During this portion I wasn't entirely familiar with everything, although their were a number of songs included from "Come On Feel The Lemonheads" and "Car Button Cloth" which were exhilarating, in particular 'The Great Big No', 'Into Your Arms', 'Big Gay Heart' and 'If I Could Talk I'd Tell You'. Even back during the band's heyday, I had a tendency to underestimate the talent's of Dando because the music while really enjoyable was also deceptively simple. But therein lies the answer to why Dando is so talented - it's Dando's simple, straight-forward directness in his melodies, chord changes, and even sometimes his lyrics eg. 'Being Around', that really ARE the marks of a good pop song. I imagine writing a naturally-sounding good pop song can be a difficult task, even for the best songwriters, but Dando's rounded out a 20-plus year career of making it seem easy.

Photos: The Lemonheads, The Shining Twins @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (October 17, 2011)
MySpace: The Lemonheads

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