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Evan Dando live at Paradise Club, Boston MA - 17th October 2003

From Westchester Weekly

Dando Slips, But Not Too Far
A show at Boston's Paradise finds the Lemonheads singer still able to sing if not play

It was bound to happen. Evan Dando, former lead singer of The Lemonheads, writer and singer of sweetly melancholy pop songs that whiff of punk and country, songs that have survived every nuance of change in my musical taste, would appear onstage visibly messed up. I couldn't ascertain what exactly he was on, but whatever it was reduced his guitar playing to choppy, haphazard strums. Fortunately, a backing band swept in to rescue my lanky, heavy-lidded idol.

As if to show Dando who was in charge of the rhythm now, the bassist, guitarist and drummer played circles around him throwing themselves into a loud, galloping, accelerating rock jam that had Dando turning every which way, studying the other guitarist's fingers and the drummer's pounding sticks like he couldn't even comprehend keeping up.

From then on, if he faked through a couple chords, finding his footing, I could forgive him. Vocally, lyrically, Dando had complete control and led his rapt booster club-like audience through one sing-along after another. Boston's Paradise has a pleasant furnace-room-feel with an upstairs balcony, loud sound and an intimate elbow-to-elbow stagefront. Dando, the comedian, may have missed his mark with pauses for commentary like, "Why did the chicken cross the road? The egg," but when he lost himself in the bouncy "Disease" off of Car, Button Cloth, or the country sway of "Big Gay Heart" off of C'mon Feel the Lemonheads, reclaiming the word "gay" to its happy origins, a big gay smile spread across my own face.

The highlight for me was the group's rendition of "Rudderless," from It's a Shame About Ray , with the emotions pouring from him freely, the band nailing the subtle minor chord changes and the audience mouthing Juliana Hatfield's missing harmonies. Was Dando hypocritical when he sang so fervently, "Walked back home to my place / tired of getting high / Guess I don't want to die"? It's easy to judge a man onstage, under a spotlight, but it's his broken humanness that draws me to his music, his songs' self-revelations and the way he keeps circling back, finding himself, losing himself, the way we all do.

He didn't make me swell up like a balloon emotionally the way he did two years ago on New Year's Eve at Maxwell's in New Jersey, when he was heavier, healthier, with a grizzly beard and a band that shook the floor. Or before that, solo at The Village Underground in New York City, when he strummed so quietly and sang so disarmingly that I wanted to creep onstage and curl up at his feet. But he also didn't slip so far that he couldn't laugh at himself, caught off guard.

The road back from reclusive addict to touring performer left a seven-year musical gap for Lemonheads nuts like me. Suddenly, it's 2003 and Dando drops out this album, Baby, I'm Bored, that's oozing with darkness and pinholes of sharp light, with confusion, confession and resolution. The songs may not be as catchy as many of 1993's Shame About Ray gems, but he's lost none of his complexity or ability to twist a song into strangely beautiful forms.

"Waking Up" is like that and it was a treat to hear live with its intermittent moans and hand claps, its driving-too-fast-with-the-lights-off feel that culminates in his high wailing. The group nailed another of the new album's tracks, "Stop My Head," too. Though it doesn't have the simple sunny catchiness of "Hard Drive" (written by Aussie musician Ben "I wish I was Evan" Lee), I liked it better live because it kicked and moved and worked the band up, with Dando imploring the audience convincingly, "Don't listen to me or anybody else, listen to yourself," this tinkering scrap of melody following behind.

I'll never fault Dando for being indulgent, for walking offstage abruptly or missing a chord. I've never lived as a famous musician, but I suspect it's one of the more damaging, alienating career choices out there. Standing directly in front of the stage I only asked that he play "Favorite T" from C'mon . It's a song of a girl's green T-shirt, co-opted after a breakup, once worn daily, now just twice a week. They played it, whether for me, I'll never know, but they played it like a rock song though it's really haunting acoustic, and I hung, like I always do, on one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite songs: "Fill in the shadows of a certain corner, you used to sit there. Got me a brand new lamp, plugged it in, and now the dark don't fit there." And that's all I needed.

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