Shunning Career As An Australian D.A.R.E. Counselor, Dando Appears Poised For Return
Ah, yes . . . the comeback. Americans love to root for the underdog, and we also enjoy a nice return from exile. Often comebacks happen in entertainment (think John Travolta in Pulp Fiction), occasionally they occur in politics (e.g. D.C. Mayor Marion Barry), and sometimes they happen in sports (how about that Jennifer Capriati?). Weezer made a comeback in 2001, though I’m hardly sure why. (Lock a teenage boy in a room, with a guitar and their 1994 debut, for the five years that they took between releases, and I’m reasonably sure that he could come up with something on par with The Green Album.)
And now, ex-Lemonheads linchpin Evan Dando is making a much-welcomed return to the pop landscape. After dropping out of the public eye for a few years to tend to a few things, such as getting clean and getting married, he has slowly been inching back into a music industry where quite a lot has changed since the Lemonheads’ last release, 1996’s underappreciated Car Button Cloth. Musically, it was Dando’s most varied album, and lyrically, it was probably a good indicator of his fragile mental state at the time. So rather than just drop a new album on the unsuspecting public, he has crept back into view in a variety of ways: sporadic solo acoustic performances; guesting on the Blake Babies reunion album; releasing an Australian-import live album of old and new material with some studio covers of country songs thrown in for fun (Live at the Brattle Theatre on Modular); playing the Reading Festival in England; the announcement of a new “supergroup” project called the Virgins (also featuring ex-Whiskeytowner Ryan Adams, ex-Smashing Pumpkin James Iha, and ex-Hole bassist Melissa auf der Maur); and . . . um, also smashing a boom box to pieces with a brick on a cable news segment about the new Boston exercise rage, Punk Rock Aerobics.
Dando made his first appearance with a full band at a low-key show back in August. By appearing with that same band now rather obnoxiously christened the Rebel Crue 2002, it appears that he is fully prepared to embrace indie rock’s quiet but fickle spotlight again. The Rebel Crue, if you will, features Chris Brokaw on lead guitar, Winston Braman on bass, Matt Kadane on drums, and Dando, donning his ramshackle electric-acoustic guitar.
Sporting a beard and unkempt hair, the tattered Dando (complete with duct-taped jeans) and his band opened their short but satisfying hour-long set with the melancholy but somehow still super-jangly “Hospital” before immediately delving into a fine new song, “Why Do You Do This to Yourself”. Throughout the evening, the capable quartet mostly stirred in songs from the Lemonhead’s last three releases: It’s a Shame About Ray, Come On Feel the Lemonheads, and the aforementioned Car. While nuggets such as “Confetti”, “My Drug Buddy”, and “Rudderless” may be out of fashion in this new millennium, they were every bit as tuneful today as they were back when Ray garnered kudos galore back in 1992.
Later in the evening, further evidence revealed that Dando’s golden pen has not been idle as of late. Two more new offerings included the country-flavored “Hard Drive” (so new, in fact, that he had a woman in the front hold up the lyrics for him) and the bouncier “Fall Down”, which features a catchy lead guitar riff reminiscent of Dando’s musical soul mate, Juliana Hatfield.
After a brief solo-acoustic interlude that included the older “Ride With Me”, Dando broke a string during the semi-hit “Into Your Arms” and switched to an electric guitar. While adjusting his electric out of what he called “Van Halen tuning”, he deferred to Brokaw for a sufficient guitar-geek explanation of just what Van Halen tuning was before the band boosted its potency, which seemed to come from the change in instrument. Dando concluded the end of the regular set with a solo version of the playful “Being Around”, after which Brokaw came out with Dando’s newly restrung acoustic guitar. After an awkwardly lengthy conference between the two, they disappeared backstage. In a few moments, the band returned for an encore, playing the browbeaten “Big Gay Heart ” minus the lap steel from 1993’s Come On Feel.
What Dando and company failed to establish this Saturday evening was what exactly it is that makes them rebels. A disco ball that hung directly over the stage, a leftover from the not so distant days when the Paradise served double-duty as a dance club, might have made a nice target of destruction for a gang of rock & roll rebels. But there were no onstage antics, nor hardly any banter from the once chatty frontman. However, as Dando’s new material (which is slated for release later in 2002) illustrated this evening, his musical stylings appear unchanged, and that just might be rebellious enough in this era where popular music is dominated by pre-fabbed boy bands, belly-buttoned boy toys, and rap-metal acts that wouldn’t know a good melody if they had sampled it.