Evan Dando & Juliana Hatfield live
at CBGB, New York
12th March 1992
Review by Karen Schoemer from the New York Times
Current darlings of the college-rock set, both Evan Dando of the group Lemonheads and Juliana Hatfield, formerly of the Blake Babies, boast cuteness in spades. Neither has a particularly great voice, but Ms. Hatfield's little-girl peep and Mr. Dando's scruffy husk can both express a kind of friendly, winsome melancholy. Neither are they noticeably exceptional musicians: although both have been recording and performing since the mid-1980's, each plays with the unschooled crudity of adolescent garage punks.
As songwriters, too -- as evidenced on Ms. Hatfield's recent solo album "Hey Babe" (Mammoth) and the Lemonheads' fifth and most recent effort, "It's a Shame About Ray" (Atlantic) -- both tend toward bubblegum-sweet melodies and quirky little romantic narratives using the half-mature language of a collegiate creative-writing class. "Everybody loves me -- everybody but you," cries Ms. Hatfield in one song.
Sharing a bill at CBGB on Thursday night, Ms. Hatfield and Mr. Dando proved that their real knack was for watering down the post-punk of such mid-80's groups as the Replacements into edgeless, inoffensive garage-pop. Ms. Hatfield's voice, double-tracked on the album to smooth its screechy extremes, Ping-Ponged uncontrollably all over the place, and her band's roughness was amateurish rather than appealing. Her closing number was an impotent version of Neil Young's near-indestructible "Cinnamon Girl," which Ms. Hatfield performed with all the conviction of a 10-year-old giving her first recital in the school auditorium.
Mr. Dando's set with the Lemonheads was considerably tighter: he plowed through hooky, charming tunes like "Alison's Starting to Happen" and "Rudderless" as though he at least gleaned some thrill from the noise he was making. But like Ms. Hatfield, Mr. Dando exudes a coy preciousness that soon becomes irritating. Anyone who can innocuously toss off a romantic image like "I'll put the cobwebs back in place" is too smart and literate to make his playing so self-consciously coarse. Eventually there's a predictability, and a lack of inspiration, to Ms. Hatfield and Mr. Dando's approach. They seem to be getting by on cuteness alone.