When Evan Dando tours solo, it’s always a good idea to get to the show early to catch the support act. They’ve been chosen by Dando, so the odds are good that you will appreciate their music – and the odds are even better that they’re going to join Dando on stage to sing some judicious covers.
Last time he played Oslo solo in 2009, the support was Chris Brokaw of Come, and both his set and their encore of Townes Van Zandt’s Nothin were excellent. This time at Blå, his compadre is Sara Johnston, formerly of the Canadian collective Bran Van 3000, who sets the scene perfectly for the lead Lemonhead.
This gig turns out to be as much about songs by other musicians as it is about Dando’s writing. Most of The Lemonheads and solo songs he plays were either co-written with the likes of longtime collaborator Tom Morgan or written by them, and there’s also plenty of obscure and not-so-obscure cover versions.
Dando opens with Hard Drive, a criminally underrated song from his 2003 solo album Baby I’m Bored. Perhaps the fact that it was written by Australian songsmith Ben Lee has led to it being overlooked in Dando’s back catalogue, but Hard Drive was written for him and it’s as good a song as he has ever recorded.
The humorous confession Outdoor Type is followed by two of The Lemonheads’ best-known songs, Into Your Arms and It’s About Time, then there’s a devastating version of Bikeage by California punk outfit Descendents – it’s fast and flat out on the band’s 1982 album Milo Goes To College, but in Dando’s hands it takes on something of the doomed grandeur of Gram Parsons. “Take a Quaalude, relax your mind/Relax your body too/Run from your problems but you’ll never get away/No one wants you, and you wonder why?”
Johnston joins Dando on stage for a Butthole Surfers cover written by his friend Gibby Haines – damned if I can find the title, but the lyrics are noteworthy: “I feel lucky tonight/Let’s get stoned and take someone’s life/Hard liquor and a rental car/Gonna hold up a bank/Inhale deeply and beat up whores”.
Then they hit us with a sneaky one – a song by US bro-country bumpkins Florida Georgia Line called Round Here that Dando freely admits is terrible in its original incarnation (these good ole boys make Keith Urban look edgy). However, Dando and Johnston achieve the impossible and make it sound like it was written by sensitive human beings with artistic integrity.
A straight-up stunning version of Teenage Fanclub‘s It’s All in My Mind could be taken as a kind of homage to the influence of Big Star on the Scottish band and Dando.
A slightly surreal moment unfolds when, without prompting from the stage, the audience start a singalong to My Drug Buddy. One artist whose songs are almost always included in Dando’s sets is the late, legendary Townes Van Zandt, and this time there’s a gentle reading of I’ll Be Here in the Morning. US artist Victoria Williams‘ voice is an acquired taste – for me it grates even more than Joanna Newsome‘s – but Dando’s version gives her song Frying Pan a new poignancy.
After Rudderless the short guided tour of Dando’s musical library is over. In 20 years I reckon I’ve seen him play with his band, solo and in side projects such as Godstar about 15 times. And this was the best of the lot. Come back anytime, sir.
Words and photos: Don Simon