What, exactly, great alt-rock albums came out in the ‘90s, and achieved mainstream success? To cite just a few: Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream (1993), Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991), Hole’s Live Through This (1994). Pearl Jam’s Ten (1991), Soundgarden’s Superunknown (1994), and Alice in Chains’ Dirt (1992). Furthermore, one shan’t fail to forget Jane’s Addiction’s Ritual de lo Habitual (1990), and R.E.M.’s Out of Time (1991). (The Pixies of course, too.) This sort of sudden fame few artists attained, at least to the degree of the aforementioned bands.
But the Lemonheads’ It’s a Shame About Ray (1992) was also an affective piece, as it indeed hit the mainstream. In point of fact, Stephen M. Deusner wrote, “Ray sounds nearly revelatory in its restlessness, mixing college pop with country flair and relocating Gus Van Sant’s Portland atmosphere to New England. The most beguiling aspect of the title track, one of Dando’s best compositions, is its impenetrability: It could be about anyone or pertain to almost any bad situation, and that ambiguity suggests some tragedy that can’t be named or faced.”
Boston’s the Lemonheads are now only singer-guitarist Evan Dando, and Dando tours under his band’s name, and it is probably precise to so do. He was arguably the band’s principal member and creative force—most especially in terms of pure songwriting aptitude, much of which was based on his actual life experiences. Dando and his band are in the midst of a lengthy tour route—with the sound strategy and selling-point of performing It’s a Shame About Ray in its entirety. Thematically, the album is homologous to both Dirt and Nevermind.
Indeed, there was a good-sized crowd tonight. However, the concert certainly did not sell-out, although it did draw a cult of long-time followers mixed with several younger fans, some of whom stood right next to the stage with palpable interest. Dressed in a retro western shirt, Dando put on fairly solid nostalgia act, and despite one considerable pander, he did exactly what he wanted to do. In this sense, then, the show was a mixed blessing.
As to low-points, I noted two in particular: Dando attempted to sing a cheesy but classic song but butchered the lyrics, and was forced to cease. A few boobs from the audience threw some items at Dando, but he just brushed the incident off as if nothing had happened. In fact, he made a jocular comment and went on. That was not to be the end of some sort of boisterous disapproval from the crowd, however. At the latter part of the show, Dando, Mad Scientist, was fooling around with his amplifier for several minutes, and several fans loudly booed. So go those ridiculous stereotypes about Midwestern politeness.
However, the highpoints far outweighed these few moments, and the rendition of Ray in total though a pander—was intriguing and, to be sure, well-performed. Dando used an electric guitar for the title track, and it was a sound move. And his guitar riffing was flawless. Other top live songs from the 30-minute album included “Alison’s Starting to Happen”, “Frank Mills”, and the album’s loud, more straight-up rocker, “Rockin Stroll”. But Dando’s pristine, grave, and, musically, folksy rendition of “My Drug Buddy” was insurmountable—in that its honest subject matter combined with Dando’s pronounced, ironic facial gestures tended to bestow it gravitas. (The absence of bassist Juliana Hatfield was recognizable.)
Sadly, Dando’s largely 45-minute solo acoustic set didn’t fully satisfy the crowd, but it was more poetic and reflective. In fact, throughout most of the evening Dando stared up, as if in a trance, and focused on the recitation of the lyrics. He very subtly, infrequently looked at the audience. He spoke only briefly, about a previous stage-diving misadventure in Lawrence; he was mainly centered on his poetic delivery. Dando concluded by poeticizing about mortality. “The artistic genius wants to give pleasure, but if his work is on a very high level, he may easily lack people to appreciate it; he offers them food, but no one wants it,” Nietzsche observed. Indeed, it seemed that the unwavering appreciation for Ray was all that most admirers found appreciable. That’s in part a shame for Evan Dando; it’s also a mistake on the part of the public.