Today is Kurt Cobain's 43rd birthday. The thought of a 43-year-old Kurt Cobain makes no logical sense. It's impossible to create an image of what type of music or existence Cobain would be creating were he alive today, as no genre seems particularly viable.
Evan Dando's 43rd birthday is less than two weeks away. Like Cobain, he spent the early portion of the 1990s appearing on magazine covers and consuming a ridiculous amount of heroin and cocaine. Unlike Cobain, Dando avoided killing himself, and it appears that his artistic reward for still being alive to to try and figure out how to navigate the waters of his past, his future, and pop music as a genre. There's a misconception that Elliott Smith's songs were sad and miserable because people thought of Smith himself being sad and miserable. This is not the case, but listening to the It's a Shame About Ray or Come on Feel the Lemonheads today reveals something obvious in retrospect: Evan Dando was a pretty miserable junkie in his heyday, albeit a junkie whose talent for composing hooks loomed even larger than his habit. The songs and arrangements were so catchy that few has any incentive to delve into the actual lyrical content. After all, who wants to spend time examining layers of the guy who writes "Bit Part" or covers "Mrs. Robinson." It's much more fun to keep the critiques simple, and revel in the eternally adorable backing vocals of Juliana Hatfield.
At the Double Door last night, Dando seemed like a man at a crossroads. He seemingly no longer relates on any level to the songs that made him a twee Gen X poster boy. He sings them like a busker on the subway, literally sounding like he's doing a cover version of a song he wrote himself. Examine the following sequence, where he soullessly shuffles through trimmed down offerings of "Into Your Arms" and "It's About Time," before segueing into "No Backbone," an excellent song off The Lemonheads' 2006 self-titled album (and one that actually seems to carry some emotional weight in the performance.)
This presents an obvious quandry. If Evan Dando is bored with being Evan Dando, what's the course of action? Apparently it's cover songs. Lots of cover songs. Hank Williams was on display along with Elvis Presley, GG Allin, Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson, and of course, Linda Ronstadt.
It wasn't until Dando invited opening band The Candles* to the stage that he really seemed enthused about his own back catalogue, with spirited offerings of "Big Gay Heart" and "Hospital."
(*I was conflicted for much of The Candles' set. At their best, traces of Being There-era Wilco impressed me. At other times I grew weary of Gin Blossoms-esque by-the-numbers pop. Naturally they won me over in the end by ripping through "Back To the Lake.")
Dando's continuing evolution as a songwriter will be interesting to chart, but I'm intrigued by his process so far. His recent covers album showcase songs that mean something to him, and his enthusiasm for playing those songs make it obvious that right now, those viewpoints resonate where Lemonheads songs largely do not. (They also allowed him to bring a surprising amount of depth to a Christina Aguilera track.) I see no issue with this, as the covers seem to remind him what he actually enjoys about music.
As he took the stage for his encore, I was expecting a semi-obscure country offering of some type. I certainly wasn't prepared for anything off Hate Your Friends. Evan Dando is nearly 43 years old, but still unashamed of once being a 19-year-old ripping through laughably sloppy inneundo. We should all be comfortable in owning our past.