Lately, it seems like a good idea for bands and artists to go out on tour and play the entirety of one of their signature albums. This seems to be even more prevalent with those artists who might be a little hard up for cash and haven’t created anything of consequence in years and need more of a gimmick to get people out to see their shows. Last year Matthew Sweet took his classic album, Girlfriend on the road for its 20th anniversary and I really wanted to see that as it’s one of my all-time favorite albums. However, I was a victim of poor geography and this tour just happened to be another one that wanted nothing to do with Florida.
Last November I saw the Pixies play the Orlando Calling festival and they played the entirety of their preeminent album Doolittle. Though I didn’t know the album at all, I did buy a copy about a week or so before the festival so I could at least somewhat familiarize myself with it. And obviously there have been other artists that played their concept albums live like Roger Waters taking The Wall out on tour and the Decemberists playing The Hazzards of Love which both were meant to be played as whole pieces. Despite the fact that I get that this strategy is wholly designed to entice more fans to buy tickets, I bought in hook, line, and sink to the Lemonheads performance of their best and most popular album, It’s a Shame About Ray last Thursday night in Orlando.
I almost didn’t go to this show as it fell on a weeknight in a city two hours away from where I live. I once saw a Ben Folds show in Orlando on a Wednesday night and by the time I got home and into bed, I probably got only two or three hours of sleep, which made for a very long rest of the week. I realized that going to concerts on weeknights was just not going to happen for me anymore. And I kept to that line of thinking until I saw that Evan Dando was bringing his band to play the entirety of an album that was one of the first records I ever became obsessed with. I actually remember telling a friend in high school once that my all-time favorite band was the Lemonheads which would also represent last time I ever answered such a question with anything but “The Beatles”.
Unfortunately I do not have any friends down here that would enjoy going to see such a show with me so I ended up going by myself, which represents the second time I’ve seen this band alone. I saw them in Jacksonville when I was in grad school and no one wanted to join me. I don’t typically go to shows by myself so the fact that I’ve now seen the Lemonheads twice in that way is pretty interesting. For me, once the show gets started, it doesn’t really matter who I’m with since I’m so engrossed in the performance. But as far as the ride to and from the venue and hanging out before and after the show goes, it’s nice to have at least someone to chat with. And it would have been particularly nice to share the pre-show festivities with a friend or two since this particular venue was unlike any other I had been to before.
The concert was billed as part of the Orlando Hard Rock Hotel’s “Velvet Sessions” which sounds like it came from the brain of Hugh Hefner. But rather than a cocktail party attended by mostly celebrities and scantly clad ‘bunnies’, this was a unique music venue that only entertains such shows the last Thursday of the month (save November and December for some reason) and is held in the lobby of the hotel. As I pulled my car into the hotel parking lot I was offered complimentary valet parking, which I declined but it was funny to be offered anyway. I walked in the front entrance of the building and noticed a very well-dressed and attractive young woman collecting tickets not 20 yards from the entrance. I provided my ticket for which I was given a yellow rubber bracelet that said “Lemonheads 2/23/12” and “Velvet Sessions” on it. A number of people were circling around the main floor area, cocktails in hand as the stage stood to the immediate left. Theoretically, one could just walk into the hotel and view the concert from the front without needing to buy a ticket. However, I would suspect some bouncer or security guard would kindly ask you not to loiter in the lobby area, but still, you could totally see the stage and hear the music if you decided to do that.
Part of the appeal of this event is that every ticket purchase includes complimentary beverages and appetizers. Every “session” includes a different mixed drink option and this event included vanilla Coke and vodka and some other vodka drink which seemed to be mixed with Sprite and Grenadine. Yeah, the alcohol content was pretty low, but the price was right. If that wasn’t your thing, you could have also purchased other drinks at the bar stations throughout the lobby. There were also waiters coming around with all kinds of appetizers also free of charge. I grabbed a drink and soon noticed that the venue was not just isolated to the stage area but that there were other lounges and bar areas in the back in which you could hang out. I decided to head to the balcony outside and I soon found myself looking out on the courtyard of the hotel and the large pool which many of the guests were enjoying at the time. It’s also worth noting that after the show, the venue turns into a dance club and a DJ spins until about 1:00. All together, this makes for a very interesting and unique concert going experience regardless of who is playing.
I finished my drink on the balcony, went inside for another one, and caught a glimpse of Dando passing right by me as he apparently was checking the sound from the back. It was almost 8:00 and it looked like he was getting ready to start. I grabbed one more drink and headed toward the front of the stage and a few minutes later, the band came out. Now having said everything above about my love for the Lemonheads, particularly when I was in high school, I understand that the band is pretty much Dando and whoever is playing with him. They have gone through all kinds of lineup changes over the years and it is clearly his band. Despite the fact that I am well aware of this, there is something more appealing about going to a Lemonheads show than there is about going to an Evan Dando show. At any rate, I did notice that the bass player and drummer were the same two people playing with Dando the last time I saw the Lemonheads back in Jacksonville in 2006 or 2007, so it appears there has been at least some consistency over the years.
I was slightly surprised that they started right out with “Rockin’ Stroll” which is the opening song to the Ray album. I had seen some set lists from previous shows and they had played about six songs before going into the album, so to see them get right into it was unexpected but still very much welcomed. From the onset, it seemed that Dando wasn’t hitting the higher notes that he does on the album and I became a little concerned. After all, he isn’t getting any younger and has had enough experience with substance abuse in the past that having his voice go a little on him was not entirely surprising. But I was relieved to notice that it was only in a few places and that as the show progressed, his voice seemed to get better. It was also very noticeable how quickly he moved through the songs. There was barely any time taken between them and there were not any instrument changes. Dando would just take a few seconds to check the guitar tuning and maybe throw a capo on and would just start strumming the chords to the next song. Interaction with the crowd was nonexistent.
The whole show lasted an hour, tops. It’s a Shame About Ray is only 33 minutes long in album form and it seemed like the band was playing the songs faster live than on the album. And for some reason, when they bill the show as the entire album, it is not really true since they decided to omit the final song off the album, which is the one they probably received the most notoriety for, their cover of the Simon and Garfunkel classic “Mrs. Robinson”. I thought that the reason for this glaring omission might be because it’s not their song and that they only wanted to play the original songs off the album. However, that is not true as they have been closing the album set with a cover of “Frank Mills” which is a song from the 60’s hippie musical, Hair. So why they don’t include “Mrs. Robinson” is beyond me.
As the show progressed I became more and more aware of how their performance was the polar opposite of the Avett Brothers whom I saw nearly two weeks earlier. Whereas the Avetts were all emotion and energy, Dando was pretty stoic and even seemed bored as he played. Most of the time he stood still with his head turned to the side; his long thin hair covering most of his face. In fact, the only time he allowed anyone to see his face while playing was when he played the closer, “Frank Mills”. He even stopped playing the song at one part and sang it acapella as he looked out into the crowd almost inviting us to sing along. It was the most interaction he would have with the crowd all night.
So where I was disappointed in Dando’s overall demeanor and nonchalance, I was probably more upset with the crowd. After they finished playing the album, Dando played a number of songs by himself on acoustic guitar. This is when many in the crowd decided it would be OK to start talking fairly loudly to each other and lose interest in the show. I tried my best to ignore them and focus on the performance, but it was still difficult. I hate when people do that. I wholeheartedly understand wanting to be social with your friends, especially after having a few drinks, but to do so in such a blatant fashion during a performance is nothing short of rude and obnoxious. If you really want to talk that much, it only makes sense to at least move towards the back of the venue so as not to cause such a commotion. Dando must have been aware of this and he seemed to start moving through the songs even faster to the point where it became fairly obvious that he just wanted the set to be over.
The band came back out a few songs later and they finished the set. I thought for a moment they’d come back out for an encore, but when the background music came on it was clear that they were done. It was almost 9:00. Part of me was relieved because that meant I would get home at a reasonable hour and not be totally worthless at work the next day, but I also felt sad. Not because I felt in any way cheated out of the 30 bucks I spent on the ticket, the hours I spent driving, or the money I spent in gas to get there to see such a short show, but the show was a little sad in and of itself. This was an artist who at one point in time was signed to a major label and wrote some great pop and punk songs and was fairly well known and respected in the musical community. He hasn’t really created anything noteworthy in nearly 20 years and he’s probably just trying to scrape by. He’s playing fairly small venues that would attract only the most devoted fans, but here he was playing to a group of people who seemed more interested in talking and drinking than they did in watching the show. Maybe I’m being too critical of the crowd, but the noise level was very noticeable and excessive.
In the end, I’m glad I went. I was taken back to a place and time I look back upon favorably. It would have been nice to share it with someone else, or to have been treated to a longer or more energetic set, or to have a more engaged crowed, but those are things that were beyond my control. In the end, it was just great to experience a performance by a man who was responsible for so much happiness and excitement in my youth and who played the entirety of an album that holds a special place in my heart for a variety of reasons. And it is that memory that will stand out as the years go by in favor of all the negative aspects of the evening, which totally makes sense. After all, that’s what nostalgia is all about.