live music oktoberfest

The Lemonheads at Oaktoberbest

Wednesday, September 24, 2014 Rob Samuelson

Indecision ruled Saturday night. I got to Oaktoberfest in Oak Park around 7:30 p.m. and discovered The Lemonheads' sound guys to be unsure of everything. It continued unabated until the band left the stage a few hours later.



Side note: A trip from the end of the Red Line to the end of the Green Line takes a long time and exponentially increases the odds of peculiar co-passengers. I had one middle aged drunk man fall on top of me because the train took a slight turn. “Oh, nice to meet you,” he said as he slumped beside me, where he struggled against the impending passing out.

Back to the main event: Indecision. Woof. The crowd was massive and seemingly wanted to ebb and flow in every direction at once. Getting around was not the easiest thing.

The cranky sound guy provided a meta narration to it all. “No, a little higher here. Check, check one. Here, here.”

Nothing was to his standards and the crowd responded.

I wanted a beer, but the line was about thirty deep and 100 wide at what I think was the only beer vending section of the beer-themed event. After waiting several minutes and moving up a couple feet, a sign came into focus. “No beer purchases without 21-and-over wristband.” “Where do I get that?” I asked myself.

So I gave up. Beer was off the table. The food tents looked much more sparsely populated.

I walked past the normal options. Burgers, hot dogs, tacos. I wanted something a little stranger, but not, like, cow tongue strange. But I was hungry, so it needed to be fast. My head swiveled along the line of food tents. “I don't know, I don't know,” I muttered to myself. So I went with the most out-of-the-ordinary thing I could think of that was within 20 feet of me: a cup of spicy Venezuelan chili and a bottle of water.

Now the sound check guy was audibly groaning as he couldn't figure out the right microphone configuration for the drums.

I found a spot about 50 feet from the stage where I was able to eat my food. It was physically hot, and the double styrofoam cups solution the restaurant provided was still a bit inadequate. Instead of finding a table – the ones that weren't wet from the day's earlier rains were filled with people talking loudly about drug addict ex-boyfriends – I chowed down rapidly. I downed the near-pint of hot and spicy chili in about five minutes and chugged my water bottle, desperately in need of relief.

But that relief didn't come in the form of more water, for another inebriated man fell into me.

“Woah, I'm drunk!” he said to his embarrassed wife as she shuffled them away from the creepy guy drinking chili remnants from a styrofoam cup.

The Lemonheads were finally about to hit the stage. The crowd of graying Gen Xers and their indifferent children gave a polite introduction to Evan Dando and company.

It's a shame this wasn't a rapturous applause because this band has made some of the best fuzzy pop music I've ever heard. I've been obsessed with them for a decade, when they were already rock elder statesmen. My older sister has long teased me for having a particular pop culture taste set – “Rob bands” – but looking at all the people 15 or more years my senior ready to relive their glory days made me think that my personal ownership of this band's music wasn't true.

The first thing I thought was, “Man, Evan Dando got old.” Obviously that's what happens to people, but when I had never felt the need to check up on him, I had in my mind the 1990s-vintage videos of him looking like a model with long hair. Now he looks like a longshoreman, with a gruff weeklong beard, shorter-but-still-long hair, a beanie, and a windbreaker with the ABC network logo emblazoned on it for some reason.

The band launched into a rollicking, distortion-heavy set. While their sonic output on record is more balanced between lightly fuzzy guitar pop, '60s-inflected garage, and Alt. Country, that changes when they go live. The pedals make the guitars raucous. Punky little love songs like “Allison's Starting to Happen” become giant barnstormers. Dando's usually syrupy vocals become a shredded melange that don't always hit the high notes in pleasant ways. Sometimes, in fact, it seems he purposely makes wacky, nails-on-chalkboard mouth sounds just because it seems fun to him.

His between-song banter confirms his “just having fun for myself and nobody else” attitude. “Usually these things suck but this is kinda fun!” he said early on, before later telling strange, often non sequitur jokes from the stage, including one about how we celebrate births and mourn at funerals because we aren't involved. Then there was something about ducks and microwaves. Some didn't make much sense to the non-initiated (re: anyone not in Dando's brain), but this was his show and he wanted to make it fun for himself.

Dando's banter and constant tinkering with his guitar levels between songs – “Which one are we doing next?” was a regular question posed to the other band members, who had to often think on their feet to let him make up his mind about what to do next – made me think he must be a major annoyance to his bandmates. They seem like Ur-professionals who want to put on a great show and he's the twitchy goofball they need to wrangle into a productive night.

They did wrangle him well enough, because once they began playing the songs, he was magnetic. Mournful classics like“My Drug Buddy” became a celebration of a time and place that can now be looked upon with nostalgic eyes now that the problems described within have left Dando relatively unscathed.

For a five-song interval, the bassist and drummer disembarked from the stage to allow Dando and the other guitarist to perform the band's electric folk output, most notably their masterpiece – it's my favorite, at least – “The Outdoor Type.”



For a short while, the full band returned, ran through “Rudderless,” then left Dando alone for “one more song” that became four. He didn't know where he was going, but he seemed to enjoy himself, and I got to see a great fuzz-pop band that has meant much to me since my formative years.

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