The Lemonheads Lee's Palace, Toronto ON October 17
Published Oct 18, 2011Coming hot on the heels of Evan Dando's aborted attempt to perform It's a Shame About Ray at New York's Bowery Ballroom (the singer claims he was under the weather), expectations for this Lemonheads gig were tentative at best. Which Dando would we get? The inconsistent shell of a man that sunk his career in the second half of the '90s? Or the still-got-it performer whose voice has aged incredibly well and played the same venue during NXNE in June?
Before taking the stage with his backing band (an unnamed drummer and bassist who looked like Jackson Browne), Dando made his way through the packed crowd with only a couple people even noticing the one-time teen heartthrob. After doing his own sound check, he let loose the opening riff to "Rockin Stroll." Dressed in baggy cords and worn hoody, with his long greasy hair falling into his face, Dando was Gen X personified -- or at least the version Reality Bites would have had us believe.
Making their way through Ray, Dando sounded pitch-perfect with the band sounding as raggedly brilliant as on the original record. Former bass player Juliana Hatfield's backing vocals were missed, but the crowd did an admirable job on "Rudderless" and "My Drug Buddy." Dando engaged the crowd rarely and looked somewhat hesitant in his playing, but the group knocked out one tune after the next.
Skipping their cover of "Mrs. Robinson" that was tacked on to the end of Ray by Atlantic Records, Dando ran through nine songs on his own. Looking far more comfortable now that the pressure to deliver was clearly over, he took requests from the audience (though he stipulated it had to be "one of our songs" to cries for their cover of Suzanne Vega's "Luka") while playing material from Come on Feel the Lemonheads and Car Button Cloth, such as "Outdoor Type" and "It's About Time."
Bringing the band back on stage, they continued this manic run through Dando's catalogue; "Style," "Big Gay Heart" and "Down About It" all made appearances to rapturous applause as the band and especially Dando loosened up a lot. In fact, this part of the show carried far more energy than the advertised performance of Ray, as if Dando felt put upon to perform the record, even though he's been playing most of those songs on solo tours for the past half-decade.
After ending their main set with a muscular "Into Your Arms," Dando once again took the stage for a final quartet of songs. The show ended anticlimactically as he sauntered off stage following "Ride with Me." But the singer had clearly proven that he was still capable of moving an audience with his golden pipes and ramshackle guitar playing.