Pop: Evan Dando

Evan Dando
Manchester University
****

Generally speaking, fans like their idols wild. Tonight, however, when Evan Dando shows off his nicotine patch, it's a wonder the crowd doesn't let out a loud sigh of relief. If Dando is kicking the fags, then surely he's got a grip on his more dangerous habits.

Dando is deceptively sweet and hippyish, but when he parties, it isn't pretty. In the mid-1990s, when his former band the Lemonheads were at their peak, Dando cut his hair short and became a tambourine-bashing gonk-cum-groupie for Oasis. Soon after, his hedonistic tendencies took a life-threatening turn, and since 1996's Car Button Cloth he has been largely silent.

Tonight, however, Dando seems rejuvenated - scatty, charming, his still-dreamy surf-dude features again framed by floppy hair. A new song, All My Life, a moody future classic, augmented by support acts Ben Kweller and Ben Lee (co-writer of Dando's planned solo album, In the Grass All Wine Coloured), hints at a new self-awareness: "All my life I thought I wanted all the things I didn't want at all."

Dando is a natural crowd-pleaser, and the 25-song set leans heavily on It's a Shame About Ray and Come On Feel..., the Lemonheads albums packed with folky punk-pop songs that marked Dando out as a supremely gifted songwriter. Accompanied only by a semi-acoustic guitar and a fuzz-box, the odd song does suffer in translation, and the switch from plaintive strumming to attack-guitar is occasionally clumsy. Dando apologises. "You're shit," a punter heckles jovially. "I know," smiles Dando, "but thanks for coming anyway."

For the most part, though, the delivery is sensitive and passionate; Dando's voice rich and weary. A trembling Buddy is sublime, as is a fulsome Into Your Arms, the compact Alison's Starting To Happen and even whimsical gems such as Frank Mills. Simple songs of love and friends, they're timeless and sometimes very funny evocations of feckless youth and freedom, saved from sentimentality by Dando's frequently troubled, restless presence. The couplet "Tired of getting high, guess I don't want to die" in Rudderless is more poignant than ever.

The audience sings the Juliana Hatfield parts of Rudderless, and almost every other word too, some even whistling the solo to If I Could Talk I'd Tell You. Amused, touched, Dando plays along with it all. And new songs such as Hard Drive suggest his future could still eclipse his past.

• At ULU, London WC2 (020-7344 4444), on Monday.

Contributor

Tony Naylor

The GuardianTramp

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