Back in 2009, Boston alternative rockers, the Lemonheads, released their ninth studio album, Varshons. Produced by Gibby Haynes, Varshons was a collection of covers from a variety of sources that ranged from GG Allin to Christina Aguilera. Now ten years later, Evan Dando, the Lemonheads only constant member, has returned with the follow up… Or is it a continuation? Either way, earlier this year, the Lemonheads released their tenth studio album through Fire Records, another eclectic collection of covers, the aptly titled Varshons 2. The release saw the Lemonheads embark on a lengthy tour that kicked off in Europe back in February. With the band rounding third and heading for home, we caught Evan Dando and the Lemonheads at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro NC toward the end of their final run of scheduled dates.
The evening kicked off on a decidedly positive note with a set from Tommy Stinson. Known primarily for his work with the Replacements, Stinson has also fronted the band Bash & Pop, spent time in the short-lived, hidden gem of a band, Perfect, played bass with Guns ‘N Roses and Soul Asylum, and released a pair of solo albums. As if that is not enough, he has also been a bit of a road dog, tirelessly touring across the nation, most recently playing some stripped-down acoustic shows under the name Cowboys in the Campfire with his musical collaborator over the last ten years, Chip Roberts. For his gig opening for the Lemonheads, Stinson was even more stripped down, taking the stage for a primarily acoustic solo set. Ove the course of 45 mins Tommy played a solid mix of songs pulled primarily from his Solo and Bash & Pop material with a few new songs thrown in from his forthcoming new album. Despite a vociferous and somewhat overly enthusiastic audience, Stinson remained both laid-back and engaging. By the time he finished his set standing in the middle of the crowd, it was obvious that he had broken down the distance between artist and audience both figuratively and literally.
After a relatively short break, Evan Dando, backed by a trio of musicians making up the current incarnation of the Lemonheads took the stage and immediately got down to business. Dando and his bandmates launched into “It’s About Time,” which bled into “Hospital,” followed with barely a pause by “Break Me.” This would set a pattern that carried on throughout the performance. The sound and the playing was solid and tight, but there was very little crowd interaction and hardly a pause between most songs. For much of the show, Dando had his eyes closed and looked lost in the music. His playing was sharp, and his voice has not lost a step. His vocals were as powerful as ever. The song selection managed to tick all the boxes, with a mix of covers and Lemonheads classics all played with an unceremonious passion. If the Lemonheads appeared slightly distant and lost in their playing, the crowd were anything but… The fans were cheering wildly from the moment the band took the stage, and the reaction seemed to increase with each new song played. Some of the highlights included, “Down About It,” “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness,” “Tenderfoot,” “The Turnpike Down,” and “Straight to You.” With the biggest response reserved for the fan favorite “It’s a Shame About Ray,” from the 1992 album of the same name.
With the show was winding down, the proceedings took a more intimate turn as the band left the stage and Evan played a number of songs alone with his acoustic guitar. Despite his somewhat mellow and aloof appearance, Dando did express his appreciation to the audience, and his knowing smiles increased in both warmth and frequency. By the time the band came back on stage to close out the show with a blistering and celebratory run of songs, both crowd and band were on the same page, and everyone appeared positively joyous
The Lemonheads + Tommy Stinson @ Cats Cradle
Photos © Dan Kulpa // Clashdan Photography