When they formed in the heady days of the mid-1980s, the Lemonheads drew heavily on the loud-fast-rules ethos of hardcore. With the current incarnation of the group featuring Descendents drummer Bill Stevenson and bassist Karl Alvarez, it seems that Evan Dando, having weathered a stretch of teen idoldom and other problems, wants to come full circle. And Saturday's performance at the Middle East was an often noisy, speedy affair that occasionally bulldozed quality songs in favor of a holy racket.
Clad tellingly enough in a T-shirt featuring Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, Dando wasted no time in turning his guitar into an assault weapon. The opening "Hospital" was college rock with a strong beat, but Dando's guitar erupted into noise every few bars and then quickly pulled back. "Pittsburgh" came to a crashing, squealing end, while even "Baby's Home," before which the frontman suggested finding a slow-dance partner, included a deafening, feedback-laden solo.
A number of songs sagged under the weight of a guitar too heavy for them to bear. A massively overdriven "It's a Shame About Ray" punted a great deal of what made the song so appealing in the first place, while ear-splitting distortion overpowered the vocals of "Let's Just Laugh." With Stevenson and Alvarez supplying the necessary thunder, Dando's love affair with cacophony was mostly overkill.
There were times when it paid off - in "Come Back D.A.," the rumbling "Style," and the psychedelic solo in "Into Your Arms," which Dando concluded by cocking his head and batting his eyes in an apparent jab at his one-time pinup status. And the Lemonheads finally seemed to hit on the right balance on "Rudderless" and "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You," playing power pop deserving of both parts of the subgenre's name.
But then Dando and his guitar were left alone on stage to play a solo eight-song mini-set that, if the dramatic increase in audience chatter was any indication, all but killed the momentum. He began by making a request to the sound tech to turn down his monitor. Even Dando, it seems, was complaining about the volume.
Openers the New Rivals were every band that forms in college around a love of Fugazi and sticks around after graduation to see what would happen.
Racoon followed with snappy, mostly minor-key acoustic pop, though the brief switch to a compressed electric on "Couple of Guys" resulted in a power-pop song with a perfect chorus.