The Lemonheads breakthrough single, "Luka": the cover song that got them signed to Atlantic, that got them just far enough to hit the CMJ charts with another cover, their very-90's, very fun "Mrs. Robinson." So begins the final stretch of our short residency at Collector Not Completist--tales of the rise and the crash, the plateau, heartbreak, dejection, suicide... The what-have-you of bands that never made the pantheon, for whatever reasons. A lament, in short. And where else to start but with Evan Dando and his Lemonheads, right?
The Lemonheads started their recording career on Taang! Records, a Boston label devoted mostly to the hardcore scene, in which the Lemonheads initially played a bit part. The cover art on early LPs "Hate Your Friends" and "Creator" is so amateur-DIY that it's almost painful, and the music is so uninspired that it could only have been recorded by acolytes of a scene. And then, "Luka"...
It's hard to believe that many of the short-lived wonderbands of the 90's ever started on small labels, had cred, had an indie spirit, or had more than five or six songs written before being signed. Even in the era of the buzz ballad, there wasn't a whole lot of soul on the scene. But Evan Dando had soul. Ultra-northern soul, real California soul. It seems unlikely that covers of Suzanne Vega's "Luka," the Stone Poney's "Different Drum," or Hair's "Frank Mills" could have been anything but ironic in the Reality-Bites era, but Dando showed heart. He was genuine.
And then, as the story goes, he started doing a lot of coke. His success and good looks made him an alternative-rock coverboy and he started hanging with the wrong celebrity crowds. Out on the the town with Noel and Liam Gallagher, he played the clown. He followed Robert Deniro through a hotel stairway, got locked inside, and banged on the door yelling, "Robert! It's Evan from the Lemonheads!" Things went bad fast, which couldn't have been helped by the fact that 1993's "Come on Feel the Lemonheads" featured none of Dando's heartfelt covers, only alternately comical or nonsensical originals. (Still great, just totally valid grist for the crazy-mill.) The big-time likes kookie but doesn't feel so comfy with crazy, and the Lemonheads disappeared not long after the release of 1996's "Car Button Cloth." Dando didn't play live again for another four years.
Has Evan Dando resurfaced? His solo shows are all heart, still. He pulls the deepness out of the old classics like "It's A Shame About Ray" or "Big Gay Heart." But he's at his best when covering Gram Parsons, the Misfits, Linda Ronstadt or Hair. This is not the stuff of success, apparently, but it's maybe as close as pop music can get to suburban soul. So, "Luka"--it started here, and it's been ending ever since.