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1st November 1996

by Kieran Grant from Jam!

"I don't feel like a particularly bad-ass rock 'n' roller this evening," Lemonheads frontman Evan Dando told a sold-out audience 45 minutes into his set at the Opera House Friday night.

It was an awkward apology from an awkward performer. It also marked a turning point in the Boston quartet's show.

Dando was right. Much of Friday's gig felt stilted, with the singer leading The Lemonheads through solid but plain renditions of catchy songs culled from their latest album Car Button Cloth.

From the moment Dando emerged from the wings with his hair in his face and broke into It's All True and the current single If I Could Talk I'd Tell You, he seemed to be engaged in combat with his alterno-poster-boy image.

The fact that he's the only remaining original member in the decade-old Lemonheads made the show feel a bit like his first foray into a solo career -- usually a difficult thing.

But Dando's late-set burst of sincerity carried over to the rest of the show and its excellent encore that included the singer's trademark solo interlude.

With his loose but admirable guitar skills and clear vocals, Dando led a crowd sing-along with Big Gay Heart and Hannah & Gabi.

He was overshadowed by his well-assembled band -- Aussie bassist Bill Gibson, heavy-hitting ex-Dinosaur Jr. drummer Patrick "Murph" Murphy and lead guitarist Kenny Lyon -- for a good part of the show's first half. It was surprising how well he connected with the audience on his own.

This continued when he led the group through a superb version of Neil Young's Powderfinger.

While it took Dando a while to find his stage legs, the earlier half of the show wasn't without its bright spots.

The Lemonheads still know how to keep songs short and sweet. Even when he's in a dour mood, Dando has a wry sense of humor that works well through his good melodies.

He also treated fans to numerous tunes from the 1992 "breakthrough" album It's A Shame About Ray, The Lemonheads' most memorable work to date. My Drug Buddy sounded especially gripping considering Dando's well-documented heroin problems.

A number of good-natured hecklers helped lighten things up by giving the singer plenty of grief for the anti-Internet comments he made Friday on radio station CFNY.

Lopsided shows can be just as entertaining. But Dando did right by The Lemonheads when he stopped hijacking his own success and opened up to his crowd.

JAM! Rating: 3 out of 5

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