Four songs into tonight’s show I turn to my friend and tell him I don’t really know if I can, or in fact actually should, review it. I mean, where do I start? Objectively, tonight’s show is awful. As soon as Evan Dando arrives on stage – thirty minutes late – the crowd straight away sense something is not right.
With Ella Fitzgerald’s version of ‘Miss Otis Regrets‘ acting as his intro music, Dando doesn’t so walk on stage as stumble, grabbing at the microphone to croak along to the backing track. He’s obviously not very well and the strong suspicion is that he’s heavily under the influence. Ok, this is rock n roll after all we think. But no, this is different. This is an issue being played out in front of hundreds of people and what we get for the next hour or so is truly heartbreaking.
Tonight is the last date of a UK tour, commemorating thirty years since the release of the band’s classic album ‘It’s a Shame About Ray’, a record full of both peppy and melancholic pop, a tentpole early 90s album for the alternative scene. The last month has seen one guitarist leave mid-tour, Courtney Love appearing on stage in London and by all accounts, a sporadic mix of brilliant shows alongside problematic performances. It seems that tonight will be more of the latter.
Dando’s voice is cracked and broken from the off and his mind is certainly elsewhere as he presents renditions of songs played either too fast, or worse, with what looks like disdain. It’s all incredibly sad to see. Starting with a slurred ‘Being Around’ there’s an almost collective groan from those watching as the anticipated joyful singalong with Evan turns into a car crash in front of them.
For the next few numbers, Dando plays a few more Lemonheads and solo songs with guitar lines sporadically plucked whilst he finds fault with his guitar lead, airing half-finished sentences of frustration between songs. Never one to ingratiate with the crowd even on a regular gig night, we don’t really get much more interaction with the singer. That is until one, utterly distressing moment when he announces to the crowd that we “should hate him (because) he hates himself”.
When the rest of the band eventually come up and join him, there does finally seem to be a sense of a ‘show’ taking place. The added bass and drums lift the sound somewhat though Dando seems to continue to race through the set. The highlight – if there is one – comes when a female fan is invited up on stage to lend vocals to ‘Alison’s Starting to Happen‘. It’s lovely to actually see some joy on stage.
After the ‘Shame About Ray’ section of the set ends its time for more solo Dando. The hope continues that suddenly he might somehow find his voice though of course, this doesn’t materialise. Before an inglorious, almost bewildering exit – Dando gets behind the drumkit before seemingly being escorted away from the stage by security – we get a cover of The Replacements’ ‘Here Comes The Regular’ which is perhaps his best performance of the night, a spark of what should be kind of hanging in the air. However, by this point about a quarter of the sold out crowd have left early. Those who stay, to their credit, continue to offer support.
There is much love for the real Evan Dando and we hope that he finds the support and help needed.
Photo: Chris Horton