Evan Dando – ArtsCenter (Carrboro, NC)
The last time I saw Evan Dando on a triple-bill was a loaded Soul Asylum/Lemonheads/Freedy Johnston show in late 1992. Word of mouth was just starting to build for opener Johnston’s Can You Fly, while closers Soul Asylum were welcoming new fans thanks to the surprise success of Grave Dancers Union. And in the middle, Dando and the Lemonheads held court with songs from It’s A Shame About Ray, the band’s first album for Atlantic.
On this night nine years later, the leadoff spot went to Ben Kweller, former leader of Texas teen band Radish. All bangs and youthful exuberance, Kweller bounced from acoustic guitar to piano and back again to deliver his disarming power-poppish tunes. Kweller was followed by indie loyalist Chris Brokaw (Come, Pullman, etc.), whose half-dozen songs were an even split of toned-down anthems and nonfussy but evocative instrumentals.
Dando, all who-cares scraggliness and record-store chic in a Dickies T-shirt, was atop the bill this time out, and that wasn’t the only difference. He’s Lemonhead-less these days, and currently label-less, the latter circumstance acknowledged early in the set. After he played the first of several songs introduced as being on his next album, a member of the crowd yelled “When’s it coming out?” Dando’s reply: “Yeah,” delivered in a tone that didn’t encourage any follow-up questions. (It’s worth noting, however, that a two-disc set — the first a live solo show recorded in Boston, the second an EP of rootsy covers — has just been released by Australia’s Modular Recordings.)
Joined by Brokaw, who alternated on acoustic and electric guitar, Dando hit most of the Lemonheads’ Atlantic high points, opening with “The Outdoor Type” and later visiting “Down About It”, “It’s A Shame About Ray”, “My Drug Buddy”, and “Paid To Smile”. It’s a credit to Dando’s way with a melody that those pure pop songs still shone when stripped down, with the set-closing trio of “Into Your Arms” (turned into even more of a lullaby courtesy of a hushed delivery), “Confetti”, and “Rudderless” driving that point home.
Dando’s voice, a cross between crooner richness and California-guy nonchalance, was well served by the ArtsCenter’s singer-songwriter-friendly acoustics, though the chairs-and-tiers setup contributed to the low-energy feel of the show. Occasional bursts of jarring, cranked-up guitar noise (taken to the extreme on the feedback-drenched ending to “Rudderless”) and Dando’s slow retreat from the microphone to fade out his cover of Victoria Williams’ “Frying Pan” represented the only sonic changes of pace during his set.
The most excitement was generated by Dando’s new songs, especially a cunningly simple yet stunning existentialist number that asked the musical question, “Have you ever felt yourself in motion?” Also impressive was a brief study of self-destruction that capped the night and posed another question: “Why do you do this to yourself?”
Given the quality of those songs, it seems just a matter of time before Dando will have an answer to that “When’s the album coming out?” question.