October 10, 2011

Syd Barrett of the Alternative Generation

Evan Dando, 2011
It was good to see Evan Dando and his current lineup of
The Lemonheads at DC’s Black Cat on October 7 – much in the same way it feels to see an old, wayward friend.  The easy comment would be to note that despite the years of alleged drug use, Dando’s cover-boy looks and goofy slacker charm remain timelessly intact.  What’s more noteworthy is that, with the passage of time and the benefit and luxury of perspective, it’s become apparent that his deceptively simple-sounding songwriting masks a poignancy, fragility, and sheer pop bliss that should put him in the league with other rock eccentrics.  

If Kurt Cobain was supposedly the Voice of the Alternative Generation, then Evan Dando is Syd Barrett of the Alternative Generation - only Dando still makes vital, idiosyncratic music.  

                Evan Dando & Juliana Hatfield, 2011 - "Into Your Arms"

Dando flirted with achieving critical mass – even voted as one of People’s “50 Most Beautiful People in 1993” – and had a highly acclaimed album and a mainstream follow-up with It’s A Shame About Ray and Come On Feel The Lemonheads, respectively.  Yet at the very moment when the big ol’ jet airliner of super-stardom should’ve skyrocketed The Lemonheads into becoming a household name, Dando instead sputtered into a seemingly permanent self-imposed exile in the fringes.     

Perhaps that’s exactly where Dando’s music deserves to be – on the fringes.  If you want it, you should seek it out.  It shouldn’t be so mainstream in its availability that undeserving consumers will latch onto the one song they’ve heard on the radio, and then move on to the next hit.  I’ve never been a musical elitist.  Yet there’s something so artistically…special…about Dando’s music that you almost want to keep it to yourself and a select group of appreciative friends.      

The Lemonheads’ show was exactly that – a gathering of people who appreciate Dando’s songwriting, and who sought him out.  The few others in the audience were obvious in their obnoxious shouts throughout the show of “Play Into Your Arms!”…even after they played the song.

In addition to playing the entire It’s A Shame About Ray album, the band ran through a number of their other more well-known as well as lesser-known songs.  The band was super-tight in its precision, yet there was just enough of loopiness and sense of “we’re winging it” from Dando that it all felt very spontaneous – as if you were watching them rehearse.  The highlight of the set was Dando playing unaccompanied.  Watching him play solo, you can draw the line from Brian Wilson to Syd Barrett to Gram Parsons to Evan Dando.  It was then that all the aforementioned poignancy, fragility, and special-ness really came front and center.

Despite my earlier comments about wanting to keep The Lemonheads a musical secret, I highly recommend that everyone seek out their shows.  Evan Dando is a unique talent who people should be aware is still playing special music.

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