Friday, February 3, 2012

Concert Review: The Lemonheads + Meredith Sheldon @ Stage AE / 01.20.2012

Not being a hardcore Lemonheads fan and seemingly not having been exactly the right age in the early 90s, I have some mixed feelings about this show. Did I have a good time there? Yeah, pretty much; for hanging out by myself at the Stage AE club stage on a Monday night in January, it was swell. Was I wowed by the music or the performance? Not really, but I didn't quite expect it to be, so it's fine. If I'd had some expectations or heavy knowledge of Evan Dando and his personality and the band's songs, I might have had some more nuanced thoughts about the show, but overall, I'm feeling like the big proclamation is: "It was a concert. It was ok."

I caught a bus downtown then walked across the river in a slight drizzle, and missed the first opening act, who was apparently just the Lemonheads' bassist. The second opener, Meredith Sheldon, was actually really good, and I'm glad I made it there just before her set started. Her look was kind of that "focused slacker" style—kinda baggy gray t-shirt, hair a little stringy and framing her face, tight jeans, huge heels, eyes closed or staring at the floor the whole time—and it suited her songs well. Her voice was gorgeous, her guitar playing was solid and expressive, and alternately with/without a backing band of bass and drums, she could move around from slow and somber songs to more upbeat rockers. Her last song was a stellar cover of a Big Star song. I was impressed and was glad I was up close to hear them well, because it didn't seem like anyone except for the first few rows of standing people were even paying attention. It's a shame about Meredith.

There was a long wait between sets, despite no instrument setup of any kind. Evan Dando came out around 9:50 and played a few songs solo. Midway through the first one, he stopped to ask to lower the guitar in his monitor. The crowd was "woo"-ing passionately, like fanboys, and Evan kept his head down. Feeling shy? Not noticing? Who knows? After three or four acoustic numbers, he plugged in and the bassist and drummer came out to play. There was this older married couple standing next to me and they were just shredding guitars in the air and totally loving it. That was kinda cool. Everyone in the front row was singing along. That is not as cool. They started in on playing It's A Shame About Ray in order, and the crowd really loved that. I caught Evan staring up at the ceiling during the title track, like he has to gaze upward to hit the highest notes ("it's a SHAME about Ray…"), and then when he looked back down he had a little grin on his face, like it's his little secret trick no one knows about or sees. My phone notes remind me that his "blonde hair hangs straight, eyes downcast, looks coyly happy".

Every once in a while, he slipped up some lyrics or missed a vocal cue, and I caught him checking for the bassist to cue him in sometimes. I found that kind of endearing, actually, like it's amateurish but he knows it and doesn't care about doing what he has to do to keep the set moving. He never looked angry or disappoined in himself, and even chuckled a little bit. Finally, he started some banter like 40 minutes into their set. It was at this point that I was actually enjoying myself, taking in these unfamiliar tunes and enjoying the show, in the sense of the performance. However, reading this review in the Post-Gazette makes me think that being a nonfan colored my experience differently. Scott Mervis laments about Dando's initial performance and relates it to his troubled history with drugs (meanwhile completely mislabeling the opener; The Shining Twins did not play this show, and he didn't realize that even though he was apparently there for her set?). He noted this turning point where Dando started talking with the crowd, even though it was kinda mumbly. I wouldn't call it a "transformation" in his performance, but it was a noticeable moment.

The band left the stage and Dando played solo for a little while, starting and stopping a song he forgot he had already played, asking the audience outright for suggestions of "rare songs" of theirs to play (like he couldn't remember them or something), talking awkwardly about pills, and eventually stopping and walking off to genuine but half-hearted applause. The audience pretty much assumed an encore, it felt like, and they did get one. The band came back out to play and I just took off. I had been feeling bored for a while. It was just too long of a night for a band I don't know. At least in the beginning I was enjoying their songs for the performance aspect, the interesting character study of Mr. Dando—in that sense, I enjoyed the show—but eventually, it was just all too much of the same sounds—in that sense, it was a lackluster concert. Perhaps, if I was a true fan, like Mr. Mervis, my feelings would have been a mirror image of that, but as it was, I was happy to be walking out at 11:15 and strolling along the river by PNC Park, soaking in the brisk night air, leaving the amps behind and letting my ears enjoy the sounds of flowing water and distant cars, and heading in the direction of home.

The Lemonheads on the web: Website / Facebook / Twitter

Meredith Sheldon on the web: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp

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