The ’90s are back! It’s not just Kylie Jenner in a Calvin Klein crop-top pouting into oblivion or the crew from This is England throwing some Bez-like shapes in a working men’s club. It’s not just plastic pastiche or hazy rose-.tinted memories. It’s a bizarre phase of nostalgic comebacks of the kind of stuff you never actually wanted, like TFI Friday’s return, a new Kula Shaker single, Cast playing the Button Factory or an Alanis Morrissette reappraisal.
Pity poor Evan Dando. The best imaginary boyfriend you never had, trapped in this Topshop check shirt revival, like a dazzling insect caught in amber. In a New York magazine interview in 2010 he bleakly opined that any touring he agreed to do nowadays was strictly to make money. Three years ago he visited this very same venue and gave a head-down power-through performance of his seminal It’s a Shame About Ray album punctuated only by Ryan Adam’s inebriated heckling from the balcony (thankfully a ‘tribute’ covers album didn’t ensue). This time around, Dando may be sharper looking and spends time not only thanking the audience but introducing his band (including Chris Brokaw of Codeine) and even occasionally letting fly that trademark donkey-like laugh between songs.
Yet there is still an ominous feeling during the night that if the light has not completely been snuffed out it has certainly dimmed. Running each song into each other like a power pop sledgehammer from ‘Hospital’ to ‘Down About It’ to ‘Dawn Can’t Decide’, played at furious breakneck speed like someone had left the oven on backstage, there is barely a moment for the audience to catch a breath before another wave of spangly guitar brilliance launches into every upturned face. The magic of his simple melodic set-up and the charm of his scatter-gun lyrics still emanate on the peerless beauty of ‘It’s About Time’ and the warmth of the jangly ‘Into Your Arms’ (which he performs solo) but for every goosebump inducing moment where you can almost smell the scent of forgotten bedrooms, there is also a foreboding feeling of melancholy at this trip down memory lane.
Dando seems to be suffering from some kind of musical midlife crisis – gazing into a crowd of doting middle aged men where once there were screaming teenage girls; in a moment during ‘Alison’s Starting to Happen’ his voice strains to a purposely comedic level, as if almost embarrassed by his own lyrics. There in the glow of the lights he cuts an almost sad figure like a depressed polar bear at the zoo trapped in a gilded cage of his own creation, doling out his best work, the genius of his gift – those quicksilver pop gems that he seemed to write so effortlessly at 25 that he has never really managed to recapture or more importantly surpass – but is now doomed to repeat ad-infinitum, his frustration is palpable. The set-list is fit to burst with perfectly honed, blissed-out bangers but even the most recent ones are almost ten years old. Breaking from this endless treadmill, Dando pulls his infamous party trick of introducing a selection of covers into the night – particularly enthusiastic about Melody William’s ‘There’s No Country Here’ and a rousing sing-along to ‘Frank Mills’.
Although if he truly wants to inject some life back into proceedings and exit the perennial ‘date night’ heritage act scene he’ll have to do it by his own hand. Evan Dando should be an artist still creating work as heart-stingingly tragic as ‘Hannah & Gabi’, as poignant and powerful as ‘My Drug Buddy’, as tragically romantic as ‘Mallo Cup’. He now has the weather beaten look of a yacht idling Dennis Wilson – so where is his Pacific Ocean Blue? Why he hasn’t moved beyond those youthful golden years that he seemed so desperate to shed is a riddle he has to solve but until then he’ll remain tied to the era of grunge and alcopops like a faded Smash Hits! sticker on a forgotten homework journal.