The BoDeans have a longstanding performance history with Lexington. It runs from club shows at long defunct venues like Breeding's on Main Street during an era (the early 1990s) when songs like Good Things were all over rock radio, to 2012, when the band brought music from its then-new American Made album to the recently defunct Buster's.
But as it returns for a headlining performance at Christ the King Oktoberfest Friday night, the Wisconsin-bred band has one colossal memory to brag about. It runs back to 1987, when the BoDeans played before — and in many ways, upstaged — an ailing U2 at Rupp Arena. With Bono battling voice problems, BoDeans co-founder Kurt Neumann stepped up with an arsenal of elemental, Midwestern-grown rock 'n' roll and, as the saying goes, hit one out of the park.
"We were pretty young still," Neumann says of the experience. "That whole tour was a good education in hitting another level of big time music and witnessing the big rock 'n' roll/rock star world that those guys were living. We got to see it behind the scenes. They were very, very nice people and could not have been more accommodating to us. Because they were such a great band themselves, they liked having a band like us along that hopefully was helping and inspiring them."
Neumann is the lone holdout from the original BoDeans. That became very obvious at the 2012 show, the band's first local outing since the departure of co-founder and co-frontman Sammy Llanas. He left the band immediately after the release of its 2011 album, Indigo Dreams.
"From the inside, it wasn't that hard," Neumann says of Llanas' departure. "I had been the guy who was putting the records together and the bands together, rehearsing people and hiring new musicians for tours. That was always my job. Sammy was never part of that. I had kind of been left alone down in the studio with the last four or five records before he left. So from my perspective, it wasn't that different.
"It was harder for people outside that had a different perspective on it. To them it seemed different, so it was more about overcoming their perception of the group than anything else. What they noticed, when we walked out onstage, was somebody was missing. That was the biggest thing, to overcome those preconceptions."
But while one key BoDean is gone, another is back in the fold. Tonight's Oktoberfest show will feature a familiar presence behind the drum kit: Kenny Aronoff. A celebrated musician from his 1980s tenure with John Mellencamp to his current duties with John Fogerty (and a ton of session work in between), Aronoff has been a collaborator of Neumann's for close to two decades.
"Kenny is a great spirit. More than ever, I like playing with musicians that have a great energy and a great spirit about what they do," Neumann says.
"People think of Kenny as a great rock drummer with a great history, and he is. But he's also a great person with a really positive energy. That has been great because there was a lot of negative energy in the band during the '90s. So it was a focus of mine to keep everything positive and work with positive people. Kenny is at the forefront of that. He's always there to lift you up."
Aronoff also figures prominently on a new BoDeans album — its fourth record in six years and its 12th studio effort overall. The title largely reflects Neumann's tireless work ethic in maintaining the BoDeans over the last three decades — I Can't Stop.
"We're not the latest, hippest pop thing going on anymore," he says. "But I think that opens you up to freedom, to do things you want to do musically and not feel like you have to fit into any one thing. In my mind, I'm open more to experimenting than ever. I'd like to do more of that on the next few records and just see what happens."