Evan Dando Gets His Shit Together

Evan DandoEvan Dando

Taste of Randolph Street, Chicago, June 20, 2003

For some reason, I always find myself rooting for Evan Dando. In spite of a lot of things that make me want to hate him (his looks, his voice sometimes), I just can’t. I like the Lemonheads, and It’s a Shame about Ray has regularly ended up in my cd player since I first heard it in 1993. But it’s been a rough decade for Dando with lots of drug issues and a creative drought. He became the crackhead that music snobs loved to hate. And we all know that after junkie musicians stop taking drugs, their music starts to suck. Sad, but true. Think Aerosmith, think Eric Clapton for the most obvious examples. So what can we expect from a sober Evan Dando?

Quite a lot as it turns out.

I can’t verify with absolute certainty that Dando was 100% sober at his Chicago street fair show last Friday (sorry, I forgot to bring my piss test kit), but in recent interviews, he claims to have given up drugs before recording his first solo album, Baby I’m Bored (Bar None), and he gave up drinking shortly after. He’s into O’Doul’s now, I hear. So…

He opened the show by himself, just him and his Gibson SG, playing “The Outdoor Type,” the best song from the final Lemonheads album, 1996’s Car Button Cloth, and a great song for an open-air show with its chorus of “I lied about being the outdoor type.” Sounded great, his voice clear, guitar playing simple and clean. He looked pretty good with a new beard, a greasy bob haircut, and a bright yellow Dickies t-shirt. A little pale, some circles under his eyes, but not unhealthy-looking.

Juliana HatfieldHis band joined him for the rest of the show, and emboldened by the obviously comforting presence of Juliana Hatfield on bass, Evan Dando turned out a beautifully loose set. I had heard terrible reviews of unrehearsed covers stopped midway through the songs, and failed attempts at remembering old lyrics, all of which reminded me of a disastrous Elliott Smith show I’d seen last year. But there was none of that pathetic shit at this show. Sure, Dando strained to reach the high notes, but when his voice cracked it wasn’t painful; it just sounded like a guy trying really hard to do a great job. And for the most part he did.

The onstage chemistry between Dando and Juliana Hatfield was infectious. He would turn to her during the instrumental breaks in the songs and just smile at her with a big, dopey (bad choice of words, sorry) grin that kept me and most of the rest of the crowd smiling the whole time as he ran through a number of Lemonheads favorites (“It’s a Shame,” “My Drug Buddy,” “Great Big No”) and a bunch of stuff from the new album. He needed a lyric sheet for “Hard Drive” which came off a little stilted. Whatever. He made up for the stiffness with nice, raw interpretations of the rest of the material. Loose but not messy, they sounded like a bar band that would make you set down your High Life and say, “These guys are really good… I’d buy their album.”

And you should. Baby I’m Bored is the rare exception in the genre of “recovery records” in that it’s actually good. It’s far rawer than any of the Lemonheads’ Atlantic recordings. Some of the songs don’t feel quite finished (“In the Grass All Wine Covered”), and the whole thing has an easy-going, “living room” vibe to it. You can almost feel the dim light coming through orange velvet curtains. It’s nice. And mellow. There are moments that could almost fit on Jack Logan’s home-recorded masterpiece, Bulk (“Waking Up”). There are also a handful of perfect pop songs, two of which (“Hard Drive,” “All My Life”) were written by Dando fan and former Noise Addict, Ben Lee, who famously wrote “I Wish I Was Him” about Dando back in 1993 when Lee was, like, 13 years old.

Baby I'm BoredLyrically, there’s a whole lot of confession and regret on this album. Is Dando trying to talk himself into believing it? “Whatever part of you that’s been calling the shots is fired” (“Shots Is Fired”), “You stayed awake for fourteen days and then you slept a week / Why do you do this to yourself?” (“Why Do You Do This to Yourself”). There are some pretty intense, personal lyrics: “I can’t believe how far I slid / But secretly I’m glad I did” (“The Same Thing You Thought Hard About”), “All my life, I thought I needed all the things I didn’t need at all” (“All My Life”). But Dando pulls these off with such a breezy, nonchalant attitude that the heaviness is subdued until it feels like subtext. What it sounds like he’s saying is, “Hey, I’m all right. Don’t worry,” even when his lyrics and his track record blatantly suggest otherwise.

But things seemed okay on Friday night as Dando and his band rocked through their set. It’s always somewhat surreal to see bands out in the daylight. Especially at a street fair where people are constantly walking in front of you with plates of Thai food or clutching a giant turkey leg. For the most part the crowd was attentive and respectful, although there was a dumbass standing next to me who kept shouting, “Give him a needle!” My social worker wife had to gently explain to him why that wasn’t cool; the fuckwad listened to her and eventually seemed convinced that it indeed was not cool to shout things like that, and he stopped shouting. I’m constantly amazed by people.

So here’s to hoping that Evan Dando can keep his shit together long enough to release some more good albums and play more good shows. People can change, and sometimes it’s even for the better.

And by the way, in case you were wondering, Juliana Hatfield is still totally adorable. And a kick-ass bass player.

You can stream Evan Dando’s album on his website. Thanks to Anthony Juliano for the live photos!

18 thoughts on “Evan Dando Gets His Shit Together”

  1. Whateva. Whateva. I don’t care what anybody says, “It’s A Shame…” is one of the best pop albums EVER. So THERE! Heh heh. I think people rag on Evan way too much for being an asswipe pretty boy. His music is still grrrreat.

  2. I agree, “Baby I’m Bored” is a damn good little record. Has a nice “summer” vibe to it as well.

  3. I’m glad he’s back and in one piece. He had become a cautionary tale on why it’s a bad idea to move beyond pot. I’ve heard a few cuts from the new one, and they all sounded pretty good. So chalk one up for the recuperative powers of good pop music.

  4. Jake, you’re so right about ‘Ray’ – one of the all-time greatest songs. It frequently finds it’s way onto my mix cd’s.

    Good to hear Dando’s back on track, too.

  5. I am so glad this fellow did not OD or anything back in the 90s hanging out with vapid celebs like Courtney Love.

  6. Good article. I like Dando and his music. The new album rules.

    One thing : Aerosmith’s music is far from sucking. “Permanent vacation”, “Pump”, “Get a grip” and “Nine lives” were VERY strong albums. Only “Just push play” is a bit boring.

  7. Be afraid, be very afraid. Do we have a serious Aerosmith fan on this board??? Ahhhhh!

  8. Cool review dude.

    Caught Dando in S.F., and a definite kickass show compared to the LA acoustic set at McCabe’s where he didn’t finish songs etc.-but was humorous and inspirational nonethaless. Boo on Aerosmith too…i never thought they were any good to begin with, they are only there to laugh at and get chicks pregnant too…lol.OUT

  9. dando needs to create cooler shirts besides…fucking “steve mcqueen is hip hop”

    Thats lame. I would’ve bought one if there was something slightly cool. Dammit.

  10. Good review, though I liked the past three lemonheads albums anyway (and haven’t heard the ones before yet).

    The new album is top stuff and I’m glad hes another person who’s realised that letting people listen to the album online previous to buying it is good promotion. It’s even good quality, wow!

  11. Give the dude a break. Between the media, grunge teeney boppers and drugs, it’s amazing he’s still around writing and singing. I’ve seen the Lemonheads in Austin and Houston and plan on seeing him again. His talent always seems to speak for itself when people can manage to sift through all the other bullshit that is pop music.

  12. The St. Louis Show at Mississippi Nights (9-13-03)was a riot. The Flipper Medley midshow was outrageous. Really good to see this talented artist back from sabbatical. Watching Evan Dando perform is like looking over the shoulder of a painter. You sing along, feel involved and the whole canvas gets covered in interesting colors. Really good lyrics and all around fun.

  13. after seeing him at his latest chicago metro show made me wonder if hes back on drugs…he looked bad and had a nervous breakdown on stage …ill give it to him that the crowd was the worst..because of that rhett miller retard…the show looked more like a frat party.. i didnt even mind dando stoping the set to tell a heckler he was going to kick his ass..it was just an odd night in whole..but he had his real fans woried..everything just seemed off.. if any of you were there please give your input on the show.

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