Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Lemonheads return with a bang to DC's 9:30 Club

Never doubt Evan Dando and his Lemonheads.
Evan Dando and John P. Strohm

His show with Juliana Hatfield at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. last December was a hot mess, especially after much anticipation for its billing as the 30th anniversary tour of It's a Shame About Ray. The two of them just chopped at their guitars, forgot lyrics, often were barely audible vocally, and basically jammed like they were learning new songs instead of playing those two-minute pop punk ditties clean and tight like they really have to be for full live enjoyment. 

I've seen Dando many times and he is right up in my pantheon of rock heroes with The Beatles, Guided by Voices, Pavement, Jeff Tweedy, Lou Reed, and the Beach Boys. And almost never fails to bring an exciting live show, including such endearing asides as letting me play his acoustic guitar one time backstage at Iota in Arlington, Virginia and signing my chest (for some reason) after one of the very best concerts I've ever seen, Soul Asylum and the Lemonheads at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis in 1992.

Now, less than a year later, he was back at the 9:30 Club last night for another 30th anniversary celebration, this time for an album equally excellent to Ray, Come On Feel the Lemonheads. And it was like night and day. The place wasn't as packed as it was on his last tour, but the people there got a heaping helping of top-notch entertainment.

I wasn't even sure until yesterday that I would go. But as the sun started to set, I hopped on my bike, unable to miss whatever would be in store. Promising videos from recent live shows combined with the promise of seeing opener John P. Strohm, largely retired for playing music, convinced me to go. I figured Strohm's consumate professionalism might keep Evan on his toes, and whether that mattered or not, I don't know, but Dando and Strohm both rocked.

Evan joins the crowd.
Strohm has his own avalanche of great songs through his years in Blake Babies, Antenna, Velo Deluxe, and with his solo material. He recruited a keyboard buddy from Philadelphia to accompany his guitar playing and treated us to Blake Babies' classic "Out There," although unfortunately he declined to play "Girl in a Box," which may be his greatest song but which he also says he'll never sing again, assumedly based on the lyrical content about literally keeping a girl in a box as his plaything. Another highlight was "Slip Away" from his country album Caledonia. The songs off his upcoming new album also sounded great.

Strohm would come back out for part of the Lemonheads set. But first Evan and drummer John Kent and bassist Farley Glavin opened with a killer version of "Killing Moon" by Echo and the Bunnymen. This was the start of what would prove to be very tight playing by the three piece and what I think is Evan's best band since the heyday of Nic Dalton and David Ryan.

The next 15 songs were Come On Feel in its entirety, with the best highlights too many to mention, but certainly included "The Great Big No," "Into Your Arms," "Down About It," Big Gay Heart," "Rick James Style," and "The Jello Fund."

Then it was Evan solo time. "The Outdoor Type" was gorgeous, Then he played a serious of country covers by Gram Parsons, Florida Georgia Line, Randy Travis, and more. 

The final act, when the band and Strohm joined back in, was probably the most powerhouse of the evening. "Hospital" rocked out of the gate, with "My Drug Buddy," "It's a Shame About Ray," and "Rudderless" each being loaded with vigor and heart. 

The band left again to let Evan play a tremendous drum-only version of "Lyin' Eyes" by the Eagles. Then the band and Strohm came back for a ripping closer of "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You." People probably thought I was nuts, but I couldn't stop singing that last song at the top of my lungs my whole bike ride back home.

5 out of 5 stars

I even got a souvenir instead of the usual super-lame Ticketmaster ticket on my phone.

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