Back in the halcyon days of indie rock, Lemonheads leader Evan Dando eagerly assumed the mantle of beautiful loser -- an unreconstructed slacker with a flair for writing incredibly memorable songs. After a few false starts, Dando is getting back to business, but it may take a while before he's ready for a full-fledged return.

Back in the halcyon days of indie rock, Lemonheads leader Evan Dando eagerly assumed the mantle of beautiful loser — an unreconstructed slacker with a flair for writing incredibly memorable songs, but little inclination to do so more than once in a blue moon. As the millennium turned, Dando broke up his band, slipped into substance abuse and slowly shed the beautiful part. After a few false starts, Dando is getting back to business, but his uneven performance Sunday hinted that it may take a while before he’s ready for a full-fledged return.

For a guy who’s ostensibly mounting a comeback, Dando made little effort to speak in the present tense, instead delivering what amounted to a premature revival show. Virtually all of the material he offered up, save for a cover of Ben Lee’s guileless “Hard Drive,” was culled from the Lemonheads’ heyday, but few of the performances captured the roller-coaster energy of that band’s better nights.

For the better part of his hourlong set, Dando sang, with eyes tightly shut, in a lazy drawl that he matched with slurry, proto-hippie strumming. On a brace of songs like the still-irresistible singalong “Big Gay Heart,” the campfire renderings worked perfectly well. But more often, Dando’s distanced stance created an all but impenetrable fog.

Admittedly, the singer, whose ruddy, alterna-pinup looks are now obscured by a bushy beard and long, lank locks, was more pulled together than at any Gotham perf for quite some time. While that meant he was capable of making it through complete versions of crowd favorites like “It’s a Shame About Ray” and “Favorite T,” he did so with an eerie hollowness.

That sense was highlighted by the set’s few moments of outright passion, evident in a version of “My Drug Buddy” that Dando infused with regret and nostalgia. There were certainly some breaks in the haze — notably a charming reading of the self-effacing “The Outdoor Type” and a feathery “The Great Big No” — but little to indicate that Dando’s future is as bright and breezy as his ever-more-distant past now seems.

Evan Dando

Knitting Factory, New York; 199 capacity; $15

Production

Presented inhouse. Reviewed Dec. 30, 2001.

Cast

Band: Evan Dando, Tom Morgan, Patrick Murphy.
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