I had the opportunity recently (Sept 2015) to see them play at the Desert Stars Festival, in Pioneertown, CA. So on the way out I busted out their two most popular albums, a legacy Dando seems to have mixed feelings about, not sure, and I realized that I hadn’t listened to them much at all other than a song or two from “It’s A Shame About Ray” in the last 20 years.
The Lemonheads’ Desert Stars set was memorable, but seemed to be cut a bit short, with Dando’s voice cracking-out near the end, and finishing abruptly with a short acoustic song no one seemed to recognize. Hearing the “Ray” and “Cum Feel” songs were great, and they sounded, for the most part, as you’d expect or hope for, and were full of life and effort. Dando seemed to stumble around at times, and came out prior to starting with a glass of whiskey and a cigarette, acting a bit strange. I’m not sure what to take away from that, or if I should, it was just an observation. The music was generally great, despite the quick decline at the end, his smoking/drinking etc., has really taken a toll/limited his voice, and it’s not like his range was ever that wide. It was great to see him play songs I hadn’t heard in 20 years, so many that I had forgotten about, that I had liked or listened to.
The Lemonheads first formed in 1986 by original members Evan Dando, Ben Deily, and Jesse Peretz. Dando has remained the band’s only constant member. Deily was replaced by David Ryan on drums in 1989, and stuck with them through their most popular years in the early 90’s.
In the late 80’s The Lemonheads were more of a “college rock/punk” band working independently, until they were signed by Atlantic Records in 1989. The band started to get recognized around the time of their 4th album release in 1990, “Lovey.” This is when they started to become more accessible to larger college audiences, due to their “alt-rock” pop melodies, light punk influence, and of course the bohemian California beach model looks of Evan Dando. “Lovey” produced the single “Half The Time.” The album and song were largely over-looked.
It’s A Shame About Ray
In 1992 “It’s A Shame About Ray” was released, after Dando traveled abroad to Australia to write new music. It was and still is their most popular album to-date, and for about 2-3 years they were on every college radio station in the country, and playing on MTV almost daily. Their cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” was played repeatedly on MTV and MTV’s 120 Minutes, a song Dando no longer plays live and seems to regret according to recent interviews (that or he is simply tired of it).
Thankfully the rest of the album is excellent start-to-finish and the title track was also quite popular….
Other singles included “My Drug Buddy,” “Rockin Stroll”, “Into Your Arms”, “Confetti” and “Ceiling Fan In My Spoon.” Hannah & Gabi, a strummer with a steel guitar, is a personal favorite, but wasn’t promoted as a single. It was the waning days of the pre-digital, big label era.
Cum On Feel The Lemonheads
“Cum On Feel The Lemonheads” in 1993 was largely where I left-off with them. It was a fine album, spawning a lot of late night show appearances and a popular single “Great Big No.” (possibly my favorite song of theirs)
The album had several other singles/stand out songs: “Into Your Arms”, “It’s About Time”, and “Big Gay Heart.” The Lemonheads were at their peak, really, playing their best music. They had matured, become more sophisticated, appealing and Dando was in a groove.
The album did well and generally met expectations after “Ray.” For reasons I do not know, it seems Dando rotated band members a lot during this time as well. They also changed their name from “Lemonheads” to “The Lemonheads” before the release of “Cum On Feel The Lemonheads.”
Three years eventually passed and The Lemonheads completed their contract with Atlantic Records in 1996, releasing “Car Button Cloth.” The album was largely unknown and ignored, all of the momentum lost by that time, from their previous two albums.
Despite collaborating with Neil Gallagher and others in the UK, where Dando’s Lemonheads were still very popular, “Car Button Cloth” failed to do much of anything in the U.S. and went largely ignored. It’s during this period that Dando really started to get into drugs and go in strange directions. His solo album in 2003 is, honestly, forgettable. He was doing Crack cocaine and Heroin, and largely disappeared from the music map until 2006 when the he re-formed The Lemonheads and released a self-titled album, as well as a follow-up “Varshans” in 2009.
Evan continues to tour and play as “The Lemonheads” with different members sporadically, focusing mainly on the songs from “It’s A Shame About Ray” and the “Cum On Feel The Lemonheads” albums. But he does also play several songs from the last two Lemonheads’ albums as well. I imagine Evan has always struggled a bit with not becoming another novelty act representing an era or past moment in time, to make a living (i.e. playing casinos). For that I certainly admire the fact he’s done his own thing, and plays those songs for people who really appreciate and remember it, as a result. There was no “Mrs. Robinson” or “It’s A Shame About Ray” in the Desert Stars Festival set by the way. I didn’t expect the former to be played, but didn’t realize he had moved on from “Ray” also. His acoustic noodling and rambling stuff never goes over well, not sure if he cares, I just know that I saw some shrugging shoulders during those 2, thankfully fairly brief, parts of the show.
From Wikipedia: Since its formation, recording and touring lineups of the band have included co-founders Deily and Peretz, John Strohm (Blake Babies), Doug Trachten, Corey Loog Brennan, Byron Hoagland (Folks On Fire), Ben Daughtrey (Squirrel Bait), Juliana Hatfield (Blake Babies), Nic Dalton (Godstar, Sneeze, The Plunderers), Dave Ryan, Patrick “Murph” Murphy (Dinosaur Jr), Josh Lattanzi, Bill Gibson (Eastern Dark), Mark ‘Budola’ Newman, Kenny Lyon, Vess Ruhtenberg, Devon Ashley, Karl Alvarez and Bill Stevenson (Descendents), P. David Hazel and various others.
After their initial punk-influenced releases and tours as an independent/”college rock” band in the late 1980s, the Lemonheads’ popularity with a mass audience grew in 1992 with the major label album It’s a Shame about Ray, which was produced, engineered, and mixed by The Robb Brothers (Bruce Robb, Dee, and Joe). This was followed by a cover of Simon and Garfunkel‘s “Mrs. Robinson“, which eventually became one of the band’s most successful singles. The Lemonheads were active until 1997 before going on hiatus, but reformed with a new lineup in 2005 and released The Lemonheads the following year. The band released its latest album, Varshons, in June 2009.