| ||Evan Dando at the Village Underground|
NYC, 2/9/01, Photo © 2001 NY Rock
"Evan Dando? Isn't that guy dead?!" "I thought Evan Dando was holed up somewhere doing smack." Two people muttered these comments to me (half-jokingly) when they heard I was attending his show. I realized people wrote off the disbanded Lemonheads' leader for good. In their prime (around 1992-1994), the Lemonheads (mostly Dando himself) wrote near-perfect pop-rock songs, quirky songs, sad songs, happy songs that could be played over and over. The band was easier to digest than those grunge guys. The jittery slacker front man had a stroking voice, slight swagger and goofy kind of cool. The music was fun; it made you feel fun things. And sometimes that's all you want music to do. Too many fans remember the Lemonheads' dizzy warmth to give up on this guy. Thus, Dando managed to sell out three of four nights at the Village Underground, beginning with Friday's show. Of course, the sales were undoubtedly fueled by Ben Lee,
indie singer/songwriter and saint to many young bleeding hearts.
The crowd in attendance was a peculiar mix of balding men in slim-fitting jeans and hot leather jackets (ouch), college kids with tousled hair and tight rugby shirts, strikingly beautiful women and their equally attractive dates, and a bunch of recognizable people. There was Kate Schellenbach, drummer for the disbanded Luscious Jackson; Claire "My So-Called Life" Danes, Marie Claire magazine's February cover girl and Ben Lee's lover girl; critics and photographers galore; and Melissa Auf de Maur, Hole's ex-bassist/Smashing Pumpkins' final bassist. To bring some street cred to the show, Team NY Rock was in the house, and that's all that really matters.
As a bearded and shaggy Ben Lee hopped on stage two people came to mind: Eddie Vedder from the "Jeremy" video and stained-glass images of John the Baptist. Then came an announcement over the sound system, henceforth known as the Voice. The Voice was pure gameshow-host cheese. "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage... Ben Lee." Are we in Las Vegas? Who the hell gets formally introduced nowadays? The Voice made me uncomfortable. Very un-rock 'n' roll. Then I saw an excited indie kid in a knit hat and black T-shirt that said, "Who The Fuck Is Stephen Malkmus?" Good God, hold on to your vintage plaid trousers and Velcro sneakers, we're in vinyl country.
Ben Lee the guy who wants a "TV embrace" had the crowd fawning at his crystalline voice and steady, sometimes feeble, strumming. His songs are rooted in the bittersweet sagas that young love and, um, so-called-life unfailingly delivers. Lees' songs greet the awkwardness head-on and rope it into melodies. The result can be a little draining at times because Lee's self-examination is intense even if the musical component is mellow by comparison-i.e., "My love is a cranky bitch that never goes away, and I am too damn delicate to tolerate all the shit. Where's my diary?!" On stage, his strung-up energy reflected the love/hate relationship he has with, um, love/hate relationships. His beady eyes surveyed the crowd, trying to establish a connection somewhere (oh, Ben!), and he occasionally hopped on an amp and stared blankly ahead. At the end of "Burn to Shine," he stopped playing the guitar and went into a cool-angsty fit, screaming the chorus.
That was deep, man. Other songs from his set included "Pop Queen," "Trying to Sneeze," "How Can That Be?," "My Drifting Nature," "Cigarettes Will Kill You," and "10 Feet Tall."
|Evan Dando at the Village|
Underground, NYC, 2/9/01
Photo © 2001 NY Rock
"Ladies and gentlemen please welcome to the stage... Evan Dando." Wearing a black Del Bombers T-shirt, the lanky, good-looking Dando quickly snapped for some tequila. I shit you not when I say I saw trays of tequila shots (not the cheap shots, the econo-shots) bused to the stage by frantic cocktail waitresses. I'll guess there were approximately 15 shots on stage. And then Dando snapped because there were too many drinks on stage. The Voice came back: "Please stop bringing drinks to the band." Excuse me, Keith Richards you ain't. The situation might have been funny if Dando wasn't acting so I'm-a-spoiled-rock-star-la-la-la. Instead, it was obnoxious. Yawn. Then came the smoke machine. No, it's not a metaphor for anything. I mean a real smoke machine, the kind Alice Cooper uses. I swear to God, it could have been Vegas.
Dando still has that voice that teeters between ennui, subtle insecurity and a Xanax kind of calm. The songs started out sounding weathered and soft, like a favorite sweatshirt. But as the evening progressed, the fraying ends became more visible and faded. This sort of lackluster delivery might have been swell if there was a band to balance things out. But there was no band. Just a guy looking like he was ready to nod off at any given moment. His guitar sounded limp, and Dando sang like his thoughts were somewhere else, certainly not on stage ready to entertain a bunch of people. Here and there, he'd smile and crack a joke, but something bitter hung in the air. Dando was happiest when he jumped off-stage and went to pal around with his friends at the end of his set.
The buzz is that Dando is completing a solo album. The set included "It's About Time," "Rudderless," "Into Your Arms," "The Outdoor Type," "Buddy," "Favorite T," "It's All True," and "It's a Shame About Ray." There was very little life breathed into any of the songs. It was more like coming face to face with an old friend and having nothing much to say. When a songwriter is no longer enthusiastic about his/her material, it's hard to get excited for them.
Towards the end of his set, Dando heckled the sound guy to blast him with smoke and strobe lights. "Full-on fucking dazzle me," he quipped. And so everyone was lost in a giant cloud of damp, foul smoke and pink flashing lights. (Discotheque!) There's a great way to herald your triumphant return. Yawn.
More Evan Dando: The Lemonheads at Roseland, 1996
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