The revitalization of Evan Dando has been one of the most welcome — and least likely — feel-good stories of 2006. As one of the most mercurial It boys of early-’90s alt-rock, the Lemonheads leader beckoned, siren-like, to both diehard underground denizens and pinup-hanging teens before disappearing into a haze of substance abuse and general dissolution.
As borne out by this lengthy but surprisingly focused perf, Dando, who dusted off the Lemonheads name earlier this year, hasn’t lost any of his puppy-dog charm. If anything, both his enthusiastic demeanor and his loopy baritone have stood the test of time, gaining some warmth to offset the bluster of days gone by.
While Dando and company are ostensibly touring to support the Lemonheads’ self-titled Vagrant comeback disc, the singer spent much of the evening mining his estimable back catalog. That proved to be a good choice, since the trio ripped through both the “hits” (a soaring “It’s a Shame About Ray”) and lesser-known tunes (the purposefully woozy “Rudderless”) with as much energy — and considerably more precision — than the original lineup.
Much of the power came courtesy of drummer Devon Ashley, whose unfussy, muscular timekeeping kept the proceedings barreling consistently forward. Ashley’s steady hand was valuable, since the sound was otherwise rather spare — a function of Dando’s playing style, which transposes a campfire strum to the electric guitar.
That folky lope was well placed in versions of “My Drug Buddy” (which Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour recently named as the one tune of the last 20 years he wishes he’d written) and the new disc’s “Tenderfoot,” less so in slowed-down renditions of more aggressive Lemonheads standards.
Brooklyn-based Vietnam — whose straight-outta-Woodstock appearance belied the tightness of their playing — opened with a bracing set of wiry country-rock that fell somewhere between Dylan’s “New Morning” and early My Morning Jacket.