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Evan Dando live at the Shepherds Bush Empire, London - 15th & 16th May 2003

Review by John Aizlewood of The Evening Standard

IF Nirvana were grunge's Beatles and Pearl Jam its Rolling Stones, then Boston's Lemonheads were its Byrds, leavening the slacker attitude and guitar firestorm with pinsharp harmonies and dainty melodies. Moreover, in Evan Dando they had the ideal frontman: a laid-back drugs maven with the looks of a winsome teen idol.

The Lemonheads stumbled to a narcotic-fuelled close in 1997 and Dando retreated into a netherworld of the odd lowlevel collaboration.

Six years on, having presumably decided that the drugs don't work, his long hair is freshly laundered, he has a new album, Baby I'm Bored and his vocals still belong in Nashville.

After spending a career comprised almost entirely of trick shots, he has learned a safety game. Thus the current fare was liberally sprinkled with Lemonheads standbys, although he still refused to countenance Mrs Robinson, the Simon & Garfunkel song that gave them their British breakthrough.

Occasional glimpses of the old Dando remained. He whinged about the height of his microphone, he obscured lengthy gaps between songs by having Miles Davis blasted through the PA at ear-splitting volume, and his exit following the sole encore was preceded by an atonal guitar squall.

Faux-weirdness never did become him.

Wisely, Dando has recruited a three-man band not only capable of following his whims and embracing the power and delicacy of Lemonheads material (Confetti and The Great Big No being the chief beneficiaries), but they also brought much needed blood to the anaemic-on-disc new material. Hard Drive soared with a new country twang, Waking Up was thunderous and Why Do You Do This to Yourself ? (simultaneously a lament for wasted years and a paean to wasted times, like so many of Dando's lyrics) crackled with testy but intriguing reverie. A career as the elder statesman of grunge beckons.

Review by Philip Goodfellow of counter culture

If Kurt Cobain was grunge's Frank Sinatra, Evan Dando was its Dean Martin. The teen-idol looks, the boyish himbo charm and a light-heartedness that belied his considerable talent, he was one of a select few who could have potentially stepped in and, with his band The Lemonheads, filled the vast chasm left by the death of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana.

A largely unheard back catalogue preceded a hugely successful turnaround album, It's a Shame About Ray, and with the equally successful Come on Feel The Lemonheads following in its wake, things were looking good. Then . . . nothing. Or rather, then heroin. As if obligatory for bands threatening to follow in Nirvana's footsteps, self-destruction stepped in. When Evan Dando woke up in an airport with no recollection of how he got there or where he'd been during the days previous to that, it was obvious something had changed in the sunny world of The Lemonheads.

Though critically acclaimed, the band's last album Car Button Cloth - a darker affair than the previous two albums - was largely ignored by the fans, and there was a definite sense that it would be their last . . .

The sun-tanned hippie fiddling around with his acoustic guitar on stage doesn't look like your average rock star junkie. The twinkle in the eye, the puppy-dog energy, the shiny long hair . . . its all there. As is the beautiful voice. Under a single spotlight, Dando performs the first five songs of tonight's considerable set, including the sublime Outdoor Type, all on his own.

"No requests, we're going to do everything," he declares in response to a few hollered song-titles, evoking elated cheers. It starts to look like this will be an entirely acoustic gig, which given the strength of Dando's songs and the voice he's singing them with wouldn't be an entirely bad thing. Then the lights go up, his band join him on stage, and things immediately step up several gears.

The performance from the band is so tight that songs from Dando's recently released debut solo outing, Baby I'm Bored, sound fantastic, and classics such as It's A Shame About Ray and My Drug Buddy are brought lovingly back to life.
Aside from that well-known cover version - of which there is unsurprisingly no sign tonight - the song that The Lemonheads are best known for would have to be Confetti, which tonight is greeted ecstatically by the crowd who have been expectantly awaiting its arrival. This is to be followed by a few more songs, but with that particular favourite out of the way, there is a genuine sense that Evan Dando has been as good as his word - they really have played everything.

His chance to conquer the world may have been and gone, but when its comes down to good honest song-writing, Evan Dando still has few peers on either side of the Atlantic. Tonight he proved it.

 

Review by Chris Nye-Brown of dotmusic

It's a testament to the strength of Evan Dando's pull in the UK as an alternative pin-up that he's managed to sell out two dates at a 3,000 capacity venue. After all, it's a full decade ago that the former Lemonhead shot to fame from the US underground to something approaching a global phenomenon.

Since then Dando has dropped into obscurity - developing a near-fatal hard drug habit, finding a way out of the abyss and now, as he appears tonight, finding comfort in his sobriety. Almost alarmingly, appearance-wise he has changed little - the same long blonde mane and student-geek wardrobe. The crowd gives him away though - there are very few here below the age of thirty.

His general demeanour is certainly that of a man who has been given a second chance - he is polite, amiable and a perfectionist. "I didn't ask for the mic at this level", he informs us, grappling with it while tuning up his guitar. Starting off with just his guitar for company and reading music from a sheet, it would be tempting to criticise him for the simplicity of his four chord tunes if he didn't have such a talent for writing killer pop songs and wonderfully plaintive melodies.

He gives us a mixed bag of old and new material - and while it's favourites like 'Down About It' and 'It's A Shame About Ray' that get the crowd going - the country rock sounds of new album 'Baby I'm Bored' produce as many highlights. 'In the Grass All Wine Colored' floats along majestically reminding us of the wonderful summer day we'll never see in the month of May, while on 'All My Life', he rejoices in just being alive.

"All my life, I thought I needed all the things I didn't need at all," he drawls like a disappointed yet hopeful former drug addict/lover/born again. Similarly 'Big Gay Heart' from 1993's 'Come On...' album sounds as poignant and emotionally wrought today as it did ten years ago.

Here's to a revitalised, wiser, more philosophical but equally talented slacker.


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