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Review of Evan Dando live at Northstar Bar, Philadelphia PA
7th February 2001

by Joey Sweeney from Philadelphia Weekly

 

There was a time--after Athens, Ga., and before Elephant 6, in between the time when New Wave had died and "alternative" as we now know it was being forged in earnest--when Boston was the center of the rock universe. Everywhere you looked, Boston bands were getting signed in the hopes that one of them might be the Nirvana the record industry didn't even know it was looking for: a band that could be a lightning rod to get kids interested in rock again, a band that could bridge burnouts and hessians and college kids and maybe even get a hit once in a while.

The Pixies almost did this, and you could argue that, just a few years down the line, the Lemon-heads came even closer. And both would have almost assuredly done better if they'd taken a close look at each other. The Pixies, led by Black Francis (who would later rechristen himself Frank Black), came from a long line of angular post-rock Boston bands with shards of guitar scree and wise-ass wit coursing through their veins, from Big Dipper on back to the Real Kids. The Lemonheads, on the other hand, came from a long line of pop-obsessed Boston bands led by dopey, sentimental fools. In this, Evan Dando's homespun charm ran right back to Jonathan Richman's Modern Lovers.

After years of flirting with the mainstream--a nearly broken-up Pixies spent a year opening for U2, and the Lemonheads nearly invented bittersweet, strummy alt-rock with It's a Shame About Ray--both Black and Dando pulled some rather abrupt let's-stick-our-heads-in-the-clouds moves from which they never really recovered. Black released a string of major label albums (most of them quite good, actually) that allowed him to eat up Elektra money by renting hovercrafts he could ride, Rommell-like, into the desert for his video shoots. And Dando recast himself as the hunky, doe-eyed Robert Downey Jr. of rock, dropping in and out of various states of consciousness--both his and ours.

But in rock 'n' roll, the lure of the comeback is just as strong as the rock itself, and we now have that to thank for what's turning out to be both Black and Dando's extended (if somewhat understated) sojourns back into clubs and onto discs. For a handful of years now, Black has been releasing a string of searing rock albums with his band, the Catholics. These albums, most of them recorded entirely live, are the only things he's done in recent memory that approach what we so loved about the man way back when. Here, he's a screeching hellion, intent on breaking hearts as much as he is on breaking glass.

Dando, on the other hand, has been doing an on-and-off string of these solo gigs for more than a year now, with little on his mind other than correcting the impression that his music is kid stuff. It's not. All along, Dando's songs--especially those on Ray and the albums that followed--have been simple, sure, but they've always contained volumes in terms of story and the loose, almost Gram Parsons-y way he sings them. And isn't this strange: As both Dando and Black get older, they get closer to the core of what attracted people to them in the first place simply by, at long last, marching to the beat of their own weird drums.

 

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