Review of Evan Dando live at Lilli's Boston
31st May 2004

by Matt Ashare from Boston Phoenix

Back in October of 2000, it looked as if former Lemonheads leader Evan Dando had finally decided to get his act together when he headlined two shows in one night at Harvard Square’s Brattle Theatre. The one-time alterna-rock cover boy had survived a rapid decline in which he’d bragged openly about his drug use, been photographed in a somewhat compromising hotel-room position with the widow of grunge martyr Kurt Cobain (the mercurial Courtney Love), made a subpar album (1996’s car button cloth) that even Dando fans didn’t seem to care much for, inspired an underground fanzine network of Dando haters, and just generally lost his mojo. Fame can be a bitch when you don’t know how to handle it, and the late-’90s Dando was a textbook case.

But thanks in large part to VH1’s Behind the Music franchise, there’s no better place to launch a comeback from in the 2000s than rock bottom, even if it means exaggerating the extent of one’s demise. Hell, even as early as the fall of ’99, Rolling Stone seemed to be pulling for Dando: Greg Kot concluded his November 11 review of the Foo Fighters’ There Is Nothing Left To Lose with the unsarcastic salvo “Come back, Evan, all is forgiven.” And ever since the first of the year, there has been a buzz of rumors about possible label deals, including one that involved the punk-rock mega-indie Epitaph’s more adult-oriented Anti label, whose roster has included Merle Haggard and Tom Waits. That’s one he kinda, sorta, shoulda gone for if he coulda. Unfortunately, there have also been a few recent sightings of an unreformed Dando, including a rather wasted appearance he reportedly put in with his old Boston pals the Blake Babies in Hoboken a few months back.

It was, however, a seemingly quite sober Dando who took the stage at Lilli’s last Friday night in front of a comfortably packed house. Selling out one show at the Somerville club isn’t quite the same as filling the seats at the Brattle twice in one night, but it seems fair to assume he could have played a bigger venue if he’d wanted. Accompanying himself ably on a plugged-in acoustic guitar outfitted with a distortion pedal that he stepped on whenever he wanted a little extra power behind his chords, Dando sounded good — surprisingly good. And wearing his straight, blond, surfer-dude hair at its early-’90s dreamboat length, he also looked damn good — healthy, even. Especially for a guy who was supposed to be on the fast track to the rock-and-roll casualty ward of the Betty Ford clinic just a couple of years ago.

He opened with “The Outdoor Type,” an amusing Tom Morgan–penned tune from car button cloth, and stuck to material from the Lemonheads last trio of albums for the majority of the 19-song set. The almost flawless 1991 It’s a Shame About Ray (Atlantic) got the most attention: he played six of the disc’s 12 tunes, including the title track and the set-ending trifecta of “Confetti,” “My Drug Buddy,” and “Rudderless.” And there were five from ’93’s Come On Feel the Lemonheads (Atlantic), which suggests that even Evan knows where to find his best work. Add to that a Gram Parsons cover (“$1000 Wedding”) and the Ben Lee–penned pop nugget “All My Life” and, well, there wasn’t much room left for new songs. Of the few he did play, something called “Hard Drive” stood out as evidence that he’s still got plenty of the pop life left in him. And the few demos I’ve heard offer hope that there’s more where that came from. So maybe it finally is time for VH1 to move Dando out of the “Where Are They Now?” file and into the running for a Behind the Music treatment.


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