Reviews of Live at the Brattle Theatre/Griffith Sunset EP
John Harris - Mojo Magazine 2002
Last February, Evan Dando crash-landed in central London, bearing only an acoustic guitar and the faintly glowing embers of his artistic reputation. It had been five years since Car Button Cloth, the Lemonheads' muted farewell; almost a decade since he was feted as both a college-rock sex symbol and a compositional genius, before the
inevitable link between success and excess smothered him. His nadir, looking back, was a momentary stint as Oasis's in-house baboon and tambourine player, an episode which looked like a revival of one of rock's more pathetic archetypes. He was a classically doomed camp-follower: picked up like a gas-station novelty, chucked out of the van once the joke wore thin. Frankly, he deserved better.
The London show, thankfully, served as a reminder of just how gleaming a repertoire Dando had amassed. In his straight-ahead readings of the best Lemonheads songs, one got the sense of being party to his creative essence. The fuzztoned ramalama of alt rock - and let's forget about that godawful cover of Mrs Robinson, once and for all - never suited him; as proved by his Gram Parsons fixation, he always aspired to deal in a more intimate, eternal vocabulary.
And so it proves with Live At The Brattle Theatre, recorded seven months later. Its 11 songs represent something of a connoisseurs' selection: there's no Rudderless, It's A Shame About Ray or Big Gay Heart and three songs are taken from Lovey, the last Lemonheads album before 'crossover success' became the in phrase and fame began to corrode Dando's soul. Close up, his voice possesses a new, lived-in kind of authority, as proved by an exquisite reading of My Drug Buddy: when he sings songs rooted in the doe-eyed experience of youth he sounds like someone recounting the memory and acknowledging his mistakes.
There is one new tune, The Same Thing You Thought Hard About Is The Same Thing I Can't Live Without, co-written with sometime Grand Royal protege Ben Lee and Dando's ongoing collaborator Tom Morgan. Like so many Dando songs, it's a song of lovelorn, wee-hours regret, which sits perfectly in such company. Indeed, the idea that 10 years separate that song and 1990's Ride With Me - whose fragile update may be the surprise high point-almost beggars belief.
The Griffith Sunset EP, meanwhile, serves notice of where Dando has lately chosen to root himself, a point re-emphasised by his appearance at the Beyond Nashville bunfight. He covers the likes of Fred Neil (Ba-De- Da), Tim Hardin (Tribute To Hank Williams) and the Louvins (My Baby's Gone) respectfully, adding the subtlest hints of gothic spookiness, and hinting that upon his imminent return with a new album proper, he'd quite like us to forget about such far-flung phrases as "the grunge sex kitten" and allow him to perch next to The Handsome Family and Gillian Welch.
Only the meanest of hearts wouldn't allow him a seat.
Bob Mehr - Magnet Magazine June 2003
This Aussie-only live/studio double disc - released on mate Ben Lee's Modular imprint and credited to Evan Dando - offered the most promising sign of life from the ex-Lemonhead during his extended rock'n'roll furlough. The concert portion finds him recasting his catalog in hues of deep blue, with the stark, somber quality of the solo renditions transforming once-mellifluous melodies into something altogether more maudlin. A jazzy a cappella run-through of Gale Garnett's "Excuse Me Mister," which segues neatly into Big Star's "Thirteen," showcases Dando's gifts as eclectic interpreter, before he rips further from his own back pages with a couple closing cuts from Lovey, the Lemonheads' underrated 1990 album. The studio set culls the results of Dando's long-rumoured but ultimately scotched country-covers record, the six-song side bringing together trad twang (the Louvin Brothers' "My Baby's Gone") with Vietnam-era folk fare (John Prine's junkie-vet reckoning "Sam Stone," the Tim Hardin homage "Tribute To Hank Williams"). A touch overly ambient at times - owing perhaps to the influence of noted mood master and co-producer Howe Gelb (Giant Sand) - regardless, this two-fer plays like a welcome letter from a lost friend.
A single note was all it took to peel away the miasma of rock’n’roll hedonism and tabloid iconoclasm that once threatened to envelop the blue-eyed Boston dreamer. Five years in all, label-less and buried under a pile of headlines and powders, Dando took a back seat in the limousine of fame, but unlike the late, great Hank Williams, emerged the other side, married and resolute. Evan Dando has weathered the storm, beaten out his exile.
And what you get is two halves of this reckoning; a live revivification of mostly Lemonheads back-catalogue, and a sobering set of folk and country covers - country never being more than a Nudie Suit away from Dando since the Lemonheads cut Patsy Cline’s Strange way back in ‘87.
As an interpreter of other people’s songs, in this case Fred Neil, Townes Van Zandt, Tim Hardin, John Prine and the Louvin Brothers, his voice leans like an old friend, knowing when to be faithful, when to be true. Without being overtly country in his phrasing, he shares a lot of the
same soul these great artists evoke; those subtle nuances of feeling that make the voice crack, hang or fold at just the right time. Bringing it all back home on the live disc, Dando invests old tracks such as Ride With Me, Stove, My Drug Buddy and Down About It with lessons learnt
far beyond the lines he once wrought.
The one new track, the Dando/Tom Morgan/Ben Lee penned The Same Thing You Thought Hard About Is The Same Thing I Can Live Without, aches with quiet intensity and augurs well for the forthcoming studio album. Despite a few glitches; the different vocal effects used on the EP, the
two versions of Neil’s Ba-De-Da, and the lack of between song intimacy, it’s a simple record that expands the notion of Dando as one of the great storytellers of the last fifteen years. When the sounds fade, the songs remain.
Larry Clarke - Three Monkeys Online
This two disc opus of Evan Dando (former lead singer and one time drummer with the Lemonheads) dates from 2001 and while it isn’t freely available in your average record store, you would really have to wonder why.
The first disc is a live solo acoustic recording from the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts – a sort of homecoming for Evan and certainly the warmth of the audience reception shines through here. But what also shines through is that sense of longing and loss that comes with Evan Dando recordings – the songs are witty but there’s an underlying tug of regret there that Dando’s voice encapsulates. Lost opportunities, lost friends and times that are never coming back – the usual frailties of the human condition I suppose.
Hopefully that’s not enough to turn you off because anyone with an interest in the Lemonheads or in Dando needs to have a copy of this in their collection. (In fact even if you have a weakness for singer/songwriting - without the whining – then you ought to get this).
The first four tracks are old Lemonheads tunes – Down About It, The Turnpike Down and My Drug Buddy from It’s a Shame About Ray while The Outdoor Type pitches in from Car, Button, Cloth. The live versions are all good but The Outdoor Type aches just a little more than on the studio version and Drug Buddy comes across as even more lived in than it ever did on the original album.
The tone of wistfulness continues with a track from Dando’s most recent album (Baby I’m Bored – released in 2003), the full title of which is The Same Thing You Thought Hard About is the Same Part I Can Live Without. Any song that contains the line “…a broken heart and two black eyes, but you should see the other guy” has to rank up there with the greats. Next up is Ride with Me, which starts up with the line “That pencil smell, reminds me of school, the clock on the wall, I can no longer fool” – an absolute cracking song complete with a loud electric guitar solo section for good measure.
Next up are songs written by other songwriters – Dando is well known for cover versions – check the web for versions of How will I Know (Whitney Houston) and Missing You (John Waite) amongst others. The first one is called Frying Pan and comes across well in the context of the album. The second one, Excuse Me Mister, is given an acapella treatment with the added treat of a delayed vocal track harmony - not easy to explain but very good to listen to. The final cover version is an Alex Chilton number called Thirteen and the stylistic parallels between Chilton and Dando are very apparent – an excellent tribute to the Big Star man all the same.
The final two songs on the album are Dando’s own – Stove and Half the Time. Stove is another one of those witty numbers ostensibly about the gas man coming to take away the old stove and replacing it with a new one but wouldn’t you know it – the stove is only a metaphor for lost loves, lost opportunities and times that are never coming back. Half the Time finishes off the album with another diamond line “…Mountain Dew and Marlboro, while I stew over all I owe” and with classic lyrics like this nestled into sweet tunes, I can honestly say that while the time you spend listening to this album won’t ever come back, the memories will keep you smiling long after the echo of the last notes has faded.
Matt Engel - The Wood
At the age of five I was kidnapped. This is my story: It was a cold night in Long Island, my family and I was staying with some friends. At ten o’clock I was disturbed from my sleep by my father. Still quite wary, I entered our crummy navy blue Camry and fell into a half sleep phase in which I watched the minutes go by on my dashboard clock. Finally at 11:30 we arrived at this broke down gym. In my most innocent five-year-old voice I finally spoke, “Dad, where the hell are we.” His genially responded, “Son, this is your first concert, this is the Lemonheads.” As the story goes, my first concert experience wasn’t my best. The first thing I was required to do was step over a passed out drunk guy. I prodded him with my walking stick that I had grabbed from outside. He didn’t move; thinking about it now, I’m convinced that man was dead. Anyway the good thing was I had spent much of my early childhood listening to It’s A Shame About Ray, the classic Lemonheads album. Now while the music was too loud for my taste it did mark a landmark in my life that I will never forget.
So, while my first encounter with Lemonheads music was at the tender age of five not stopped listening to their music. Naturally when I heard about the Evan Dando solo album I had to pick it up. The live disc is solid. It has such LH classics as Down About it, Stove, Buddy, and Big Star’s classic Thirteen. While it has those gems it lacks some of my other favorites such as If I Could Talk and Bit Part. So in sum the live album is well recorded and contains a good premise to the Evan/Lemonhead style. The Griffith Sunset ep, though, was somewhat disappointing. While the Hank Williams tribute is excellent I was hoping for at least one Gram Parsons cover. There were none! Oh well, this should hold us Lemonhead/Smudge/Sneeze/Tom Morgan fanatics until Evan’s next solo release.