The Lemon Ones

Live Review from Underground Rocks 2023!
1. The Last Train
2. A Thousand Volts
3. We’re Not The Same
4. Figure It Out
5. Blind
6. High By The Afternoon
7. That’s Just The Way It Is (Feat. Aurélien Nissen @ Rising Atlantis)

In 2020, I was working part time as a sound tech twice a week at the old Wanch. One night, without saying much or looking over, the keyboard player for a relatively new band hands me a USB cable. I look at it expecting some instructions but she was a bit busy setting up – obviously I knew she wanted it to be plugged into the sound system but the issue was that the equipment we worked with then was a little outdated and putting in a USB? Not happening. The keyboard player looked confused, then shocked, then worried. Eventually, we concoct a solution wherein the keyboard, which wasn’t actually a keyboard but a MIDI controller running through a sound program on a laptop, could be run from the laptop into the speakers through a 3.5mm aux like that on a phone but in doing so compressed the sound and offered much less control.

The moral of the story is to always check what equipment your venue has even if it’s well-known.

Also, that keyboard player was Bobo from The Lemon Ones.

Three years on, the same Line6 25 keys MIDI controller is still active on stage, but aside from the interesting choice of instrument, not much else seems to be the same with the band. What was a few years ago an upcoming casual alt-rock four piece band has now grown almost twice its size memberwise, and a fateful collab with stylist Kevin Ho in late 2022 changed their outfits from touring garage band to high school prom. Was this a good change? Considering that their last major show was with Ear Up at the massive MacPherson stadium, probably yes! Their new white suits, sunglasses and sparkling dresses made them stand out among a sea of band tees and hemp vests. But I couldn’t help but sense that the extravaganza from their new sophisticated sexy style censored consistent sound issues.

The good things first – since 2020 they’re much smoother and their sound overall is a lot better. Jero’s vocals were always impressive (although he always felt a bit serious to me) but tonight, he really showed off his ability to go high, go low, go fast and go slow. And this fit the new band branding which is no longer semi-acoustic rock but full fledged punk. A natural evolution? Perhaps – they bill themselves as Artic Monkey inspired psychedelia and I certainly see parts of that. I particularly enjoyed Jero’s softer vocals on High By The Afternoon, a much slower and lyrical song compared to the rest of their loud punk-grunge-psychedelic song list. The band’s expanded line-up also let them get a much fuller sound on “loud guitar song(s)” [end quote] like Figure It Out was, as Jero described, a pretty good loud guitar song. New psychedelic effects like intense wah-wahs, whole plucked sections and tight harmonies were showcased in We’re Not The Same and A Thousand Volts. Their performance of Blind, one of their headline pieces from their 2019-2020 days also drew existing fans onto the dancefloor.

But not all change is good change. The vocal harmonies were generally nice but sometimes out of tune – the falling harmonies in High By The Afternoon were flat (a common issue with descending phrases) but sharp in their final number, That’s Just The Way It Is. An upgrade for Bobo’s keyboard might also be a good consideration – the two octave range of the Line6 25 simply did not allow her to play as expansively as she could have. This was obvious in the lead in to High By The Afternoon where the range was clearly limited by the range of the keys. Not to mention the band’s focus on louder guitar and drums often covered up the keys anyway. Another thing covered up? The tambourines. There’s a lot of potential in a good tambourine guy, but not only could I not hear the tambourines at all, but I generally felt like it a meaningless addition. And I swear there were moments where the tambourine was shook up and down instead of side to side. Tambourines do not make sound going only up and down. And unfortunately despite all the loudness, a lack of consistent stage banter and audience interaction (except when selling merch) left chunks of the crowd watching the ceiling rather than the stage. The lack of stage banter also made the set much shorter than expected – like a good 10 minutes shorter than expected.

The best song of the night was without a doubt That’s Just The Way It Is which featured Arezzen from Rising Atlantis (“His name is Aurélien but he asked me to say his stage name” Jero, 2023). Despite similar balance issues to previous songs, the upbeat rhythm, alt-rock atmosphere and impressive rapping from Arezzen got the crowd moving just in time before they finished off.

Anyway, final verdict: The Lemon Ones have definitely grown into something else. They no longer have the vibe of an upcoming neighbourhood band, but now act as if on Broadway. Their music is louder, prouder and more layered. The band is getting bigger and bigger, both in their performance choices and literal band members. But more is not always better and a choice has to be made – focus on the music and close audience interaction or focus on extravaganza at extravagant venues. You can have both but we’re not currently getting both.
Cyril Ma

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Performances by The Lemon Ones: