It’s been nearly 30 years since It’s a Shame About Ray launched The Lemonheads into alt-rock stardom and their frontman, Evan Dando, became something of a Gen X poster boy. While another gold record, Come on Feel the Lemonheads, followed immediately the next year and another less successful album, Car Button Cloth, three years later, in the subsequent decades, The Lemonheads’ output has been sporadic at best. Not so much a band but a name for Dando to hang his hat upon when the mood suits him, The Lemonheads’ have only released two records during the past 15 years, both of them consisting entirely of covers.
So it was hard to know what to expect from a Lemonheads show, but as it turned out, it was probably best not to have any expectations as Dando led bassist Farley Gavin and drummer Mikey Jones through their set at a brisk pace. Throughout the show, Dando, looking like a grizzled version of his younger slacker self, would be counting off the next song as the band finished the last one. This kept things lively as they worked their way through classics like “Rudderless” and “Big Gay Heart,” though at times Evan seemed impatient even as he muttered between songs about having been to Stache’s, the legendary Columbus club where The Lemonheads would have most likely played their first time in town. But even while Dando also made several changes to the setlist on the fly when the song put before him displeased him, it all coalesced into a performance that seemed well-oiled, though not staged, with originals like “Dawn Can’t Decide” paired with covers like “Different Drum,” the Michael Nesmith cut Linda Ronstadt made famous.
Things got even more off-the-cuff once Gavin and Jones left the stage and Dando to his own devices. Taking requests, Dando managed to go from “Amazing Grace” one minute to the Buzzcocks’ “I Don’t Mind” the next and then a few verses of Cheap Trick’s “He’s a Whore.” There were also unmiced, acoustic singalongs that revealed the charisma that once made him an alt-rock heartthrob. Perhaps most surprising, though, was when he ran through “Hate Your Friends,” the title track from The Lemonheads’ punkish debut, before the band returned for “Confetti,” a standout from It’s a Shame About Ray. Wonderfully erratic at times, the night’s performance was a pleasant reminder that sometimes spontaneity goes a lot further than perfection.