Distant and disengaged Lemonheads frontman's cold-shoulder performance detracts from otherwise solid set.
To some degree, the Lemonheads has always been the Evan Dando Show. While the band’s shaggy-headed frontman has made a career of surrounding himself with top-notch bandmates, as the group’s only consistent member since its formation in 1986, one gets the impression that Dando sees the Lemonheads as an extension of himself—his genius, plus backup.
While the notoriously egotistical artist refrained from chastising his bandmates onstage Monday night at Lee’s Palace, as he’s done in other cities on the band’s It’s a Shame About Ray 20th anniversary tour, he made no attempts to feign camaraderie, either. Sequestered in his own little corner of the stage, Evan Dando did his thing while the band—comprised of bassist Josh Lattanzi and drummer Brian Nolan—did theirs.
Fortunately, nostalgia is a hot sell these days, and the band played strongly enough to capitalize on the sticky teenage memories of the predominantly Gen X crowd, many of whom were bobbing their greying heads excitedly as they scream-sang along to every lyric. It was clear that much of the crowd had come to know the Lemonheads in the band’s early-’90s, 120 Minutes–era heyday, back when Evan Dando was known equally for his golden good looks as for his ability to write great lyrics about drug buddies and body-pierced girlfriends (and for his alleged affairs with both Courtney Love and crack cocaine, of course). Renditions of such classics as “Alison’s Starting to Happen” (performed with the band) and “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You” (performed by Dando alone) were enough to make anyone desperately wish for driving power-pop to come back into fashion.
Toronto lucked out by getting a mostly coherent Dando on Monday night; songs were performed fumble-free, though Dando’s single half-hearted attempt to address the audience was garbled and incoherent. Still, despite an overall solid performance, it was difficult to tell whether Dando actually wanted to be there as he strummed without emotion from one tune to the next, unresponsive to an audience bursting with giddy enthusiasm.
Fans looking for his human side were better served at Dando’s short-but-sweet acoustic set with ex-Lemonheads bandmate Juliana Hatfield in June, an under-promoted highlight of the NXNE festival lineup. There, Dando and Hatfield displayed an onstage chemistry that seemed sweet and unforced, making for an endearing performance despite a rather obvious lack of pre-show preparation. While Dando and band were better rehearsed on Monday night, the heart wasn’t there. And, really, isn’t that the whole point of a live show?