Live review

Evan Dando
Shepherds Bush Empire, London : 15.5.2003

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.

:: Philip Goodfellow

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