Evan Dando live at The Macbeth, Hoxton, London
13th May 2009
Review by Rick Burin
Evan Dando stands legs apart, eyes closed, pain etched on his face. “When you can’t trust yourself/Baby, trust someone else,” he croons, 200 fans chanting along. We’re some 21 tracks into the gig and Dando has just pulled out this heart-stopping version of ‘Ride With Me’. It surely can’t get any better.
The setting is The Macbeth, a poky, sweltering London pub. The stage is at the back of the room, barely four inches high and boasting just a drum kit and mic. There were 200 tickets and they sold out immediately, the guy checking passes says. This is for hardcore fans only.
The star act is due on at 9.30. Before that there’s a half-hour set from Sheffield two-piece Little Lost David. Their opener, ‘Yours’ is unequivocally fantastic, with a haunting vocal and a devastating pay-off. But elsewhere, a lack of lyrical ambition means the songs don’t always do justice to singer David Roch’s arresting voice. They’re still well worth seeking out.
Half past nine comes and goes. So does ten. At ten past, Dando emerges from a side door, wearing a baggy blue t-shirt, hair flapping in his face. “About fucking time,” someone suggests. Dando looks up. “Yeah, sorry ‘bout that,” he murmurs. He looks around. “Thanks for coming, good to see you.”
Then he’s into an irresistible version of ‘The Outdoor Type’, Tom Morgan’s hymn to “the great indoors”. It’s rapturously received. Dando, on his own and playing a plugged-in acoustic, follows it with ‘Pittsburgh’ and ‘My Drug Buddy’, which turns into an improbable singalong. He breaks into a sleepy-eyed smirk at the idea of every one of us loving our drug buddies. Or perhaps it’s because the crowd knows every word to every song.
It’s the ultimate fans’ gig. At one stage Dando asks for the house lights to be turned up so he can see his audience better. The setlist is eclectic, taking in the hits, heaps of great album tracks, a handful of B-sides and some well-chosen covers, and spanning from 1987’s Hate Your Friends (represented by ‘Don’t Tell Yourself’) to a pair of numbers from the forthcoming Varshons LP: Gram Parsons’ ‘I Just Can’t Take It Anymore’ and G.G. Allin’s ‘Layin’ Up With Linda’. Dando plays seven songs from It’s a Shame About Ray, seven from Come on Feel the Lemonheads.
He barely pauses between songs. In an hour and 22 minutes, he plays 35. Well, 34 and a half. He doesn’t finish ‘Frying Pan’. “If you clap in the middle, you’re bored,” he says. “It’s fine, I’m bored too.” Well if he is, it doesn’t show. He talks a bit, grins a lot, asks us to sing the last chorus of ‘If I Could Talk I’d Tell You’ again, because we’d got it wrong. And when messing around with the lyrics isn’t enough (“Can’t grow a beard/Or even fly a kite,” he sings in ‘The Outdoor Type’), he changes the melodies.
A couple of tunes are a letdown: there’s a largely throwaway version of ‘Big Gay Heart’ – the best thing he’s ever written – and a rushed ‘Down About It’, but everything else hits the target.
He offers nigh-on definitive versions of ‘My Idea’, ‘All My Life’ and the brilliant ‘Why Do You Do This to Yourself?’, all from his 2003 'solo' record. ‘Rudderless’ is pulsating, ragged and relentless. A tender take on ‘It’s About Time’ sees the crowd singing the Juliana Hatfield part. Dando's powerful, possessed rendering of The Misfits’ ‘Skulls’ threatens to take the roof off the place, and ‘Ride With Me’ is utterly transcendent. Then he starts taking requests, beginning with ‘Mallo Cup’.
After an extraordinary hour-long set, stuffed with highlights, comes one of the most peculiar five-minute interludes I’ve ever witnessed. Someone yells out for ‘Kitchen’, and Dando breaks into a gloriously relaxed, rocking version. Finding himself joined by an unwelcome stage invader who’s throwing some unusual shapes, he’s unsure whether to humour or humiliate her. He tries both, and when neither work, he unplugs his guitar and tries to walk off.
No chance. The crowd wants more. A couple of quick-thinking mediators hop onto the stage. He’s bundled back on, she’s bundled back off and – to a cacophony of cheers – Dando delivers a mesmerising ‘My Favourite T’, without his backing dancer and as if nothing had happened. It’s the first track of an extraordinary six song semi-encore. Next is a deliciously lazy version of ‘Shots Is Fired’, with Dando’s voice wavering intentionally in and out of key, before he turns ‘Bit Part’ inside out, transforming it into a melancholy wonder.
He plays 'Ba De Da', then takes two last requests. “Luka! Luka! Luka! Luka!” yells someone stage left. “Yeah, alright,” Dando says resignedly. He attempts to quit the Suzanne Vega cover halfway through, saying it “isn’t working”, but he’s overruled by the crowd, who seem to disagree. Then – ignoring an ill-advised shout for ‘Mrs Robinson’ – he’s off on a breathtaking ‘Different Drum’: alternately folky and funky. “Soooooo… goodbye,” he sings, his voice racing all over the octaves for the final chorus.
And then he’s gone.
He’d had to drop one cover because the lyrics sheet went missing. Another one stalled halfway through when his crib sheet fell off the mic stand. And he almost deprived us of one of the most extraordinary closes to a set imaginable. But the show was everything a Lemonheads fan could want: unpolished, sometimes shambolic, but frequently exhilarating. The audience left awestruck, having enjoyed a rich and varied tour of Dando’s back catalogue. It's a wonderful place to visit.
1. The Outdoor Type
3. My Drug Buddy
4. All My Life
6. Layin’ Up With Linda (G.G. Allin cover)
7. A Circle of One
10. I Just Can’t Take It Anymore (Gram Parsons cover)
12. Down About It
13. It’s About Time
14. My Idea
15. Why Do You Do This to Yourself?
16. The Turnpike Down
19. Big Gay Heart
20. Homos (The Frogs cover)
21. Ride With Me
22. The Great Big No
23. Frying Pan (incomplete)
24. It’s a Shame About Ray
25. Mallo Cup
26. Don’t Tell Yourself
27. If I Could Talk I’d Tell You
28. Into Your Arms
30. Favourite T
31. Shots Is Fired
32. Bit Part
33. Ba De Da
35. Different Drum
Rick Burin is a reporter at the Harrogate Advertiser and writes about movies for various publications. Email: richardburin AT hotmail.com