Evan Dando pinballs through the flat he’s occupying in Buenos Aires. His phone camera pointed up toward his perennial scruff, his hair unchanged after decades in the pseudo-spotlight—long and unkempt and long unkempt.
Then we’re on the balcony.
“It’s like Las Ramblas.”
“You mean in Barcelona?”
“Yeah. Las Ramblas.”
I toss my questions.
I really only have one I absolutely need answered, anyway: How are we supposed to think about The Lemonheads?
The band, active since the late ’80s, plays the Light House Arts Centre on Thursday, March 30. You’ll want to grab your Gen X party hat (that would mean a beanie, I guess), because it’s a special occasion—the 30th anniversary of the alt-rock album It’s A Shame About Ray.
“Alt-rock” is, admittedly, a pretty milquetoast adjective for one the best albums of the ’90s, but we can argue about genres in a minute.
If Halifax seems out of the way for the Martha’s Vineyard-based Dando and co., you needn’t wrap your head around the visit by miring yourself in sad old affirmations about our city’s erstwhile status as “the new Seattle.”
Know, simply, that Dando likes it here. He has friends here. He’s spent more time here than you know.
“Halifax,” he says, “is badass.”
When we talk about The Lemonheads, we’re talking about Dando. The lineup has undergone a frenzy of permutations over the years, featuring some three-dozen-plus members. Halifax will see Lee Falco on drums and Farley Glavin on bass. Dando is the constant. The guitar-vocals-songs wizard has a permanent reservation in the back-wall booth of ’90s rock immortals, along with Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell, Courtney Love, Mark Arm and Liz Phair.
Except Dando? He’s just kept on keepin’ on (as has Phair). April 22, he starts a US solo tour. Twenty dates so far, many with Psychedelic Furs (melt).
I asked about the last show on the It’s a Shame About Ray tour. (The band plays Toronto the night after Halifax—it’s a reschedule of a November show that was preempted by a giant snowstorm in Buffalo, New York.)
“There is no last show.”
In retrospect, it was a far more meaningful answer than I think either of us understood in the moment.
He does that.
Writing the song “Stove,” from 1990’s Lovey, which is about getting a new stove and missing his old stove, he thought, “I’m just going to lay it out and not worry about anything. Have a good rhyme and tell everybody what happened that day. I tend to get lucky like that; it was a real feeling I was having.”
Maybe it’s luck. Maybe it’s the carefree ease of being an excellent songwriter. Or maybe it’s that there’s hidden meaning in the everyday moves of our lives. And maybe, even, it’s that when we don’t know we’re thinking deep thoughts, our brains are still on the clock.
The Lemonheads’ best song is, in fact, “Stove.” (My DMs are open.)
But The Lemonheads’ best-known song is on a re-release of It’s a Shame About Ray: the sped-up, tambourine-cranked cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.” It was in a bunch of movies, but linking the band and this song isn’t anything close to an adequate endorsement, so let’s just forget about it, okay?
“I really, really try every night. I really give it my all. It’s just that sometimes my all isn’t that much. But sometimes? It’s way too much.”tweet this
I read a comment online that one It’s a Shame About Ray concert-goer felt “Transported to the ’90s.” Besides being a limp, cliched little appendage of writing, it’s not accurate to imprison The Lemonheads in a decade. Nor a genre.
The band is not grunge, not hardcore, not power pop, not folk, not pop punk. But it is also all of these things.
To wit, in order: “Ballarat,” “Rat Velvet,” “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You,” “The Outdoor Type,” “Alison’s Starting to Happen.” Again: DMs.
“We are the alpha and not the omega,” Dando says. “We are the alpha and then the C sharp. We're like middle C. We are really neither here nor there. We’re really hard to pin down.”
Unsurprisingly, since he’s the one sowing, er, flinging, the seeds, here, he says, “I like that. I like to be as confusing as possible.”
It is a fact that if you see The Lemonheads, it is always, potentially, the last time you will see The Lemonheads.
This is one reason to not miss the March 30 concert. Happily, for the non-fatalists, there are others: Jumping up and down; scream-singing an a cappella version of “Frank Mills”; appreciating Dando’s free-wheeling on-stage self; remembering the you that is deep down inside, a burner left on low, at no risk of taking down the whole house, but still giving off heat.
Also, maybe a new song?
Post-interview, Dando texted me a few covers, and a new rough Lemonheads song he’s working on, plus a request: “por favor don’t share?”
On my honour.
He also messaged a horror-movie photo of his left hand with severed tendons. Which reminds me, I should have told you earlier about his to-the-elbow cast and immobilized thumb. Don’t panic. He can still play. He demonstrated from the Buenos Aires balcony.
“I don’t know how, but I still can.”
It’s a convenient truth for a frontman on tour who, if the past is any indication of the future, will be on stage for a long time Thursday night. I saw The Lemonheads in October in Scotland. Dando did a half hour, solo, then the band (Swervedriver’s Mikey Jones on drums and Glavin on bass) played It’s a Shame About Ray, then they did another half-hour-plus of hits. Requests by yelling. Get ready.
Two quasi-disappointments: No “Stove” and solo Dando didn’t get through the Minor Threat-y staccato burst that is “Hate your Friends,” from the album of the same name. He just said fuck it, smiled and moved on.
And, you know what? It was fine.
“I really, really try every night. I really give it my all. It’s just that sometimes my all isn’t that much. But sometimes? It’s way too much.”
The Lemonheads play HalifaxWhen: Thursday, March 30
Where: Light House Arts Centre, 1800 Argyle Street
Time: 7pm doors
Tickets: Available now, starting at $54.70