The Evan Dando Incident
Evan Dando was an indy rock star with a well-known drug problem, His 2003 meltdown at a gig in Melbourne became the stuff of local music legend.
Evan Dando was born in Massachusetts in March 1967.
His parents moved to Boston when he was 10, and he attended the Commonwealth High School on the north shore. A mediocre student, he became more interested in music as he got older, and formed his first band with two schoolmates when he was a teenager.
Originally called 'Whelp!', this group would gradually morph into 'The Lemonheads', taking their name from a popular item of candy.
The Lemonheads released an EP and three albums on a small label, and regularly played local venues, but did not find any real success. Dando even left the group for a time, appearing with other bands before taking off on an extended backpacking holiday.
He eventually made his way to Australia, bumming his way up and down the east coast, surfing and checking out the local music scene.
During this period, Dando became friendly with two local musicians; Tom Morgan and Nic Dalton.
Morgan and Dalton, best known locally as part of the band 'Smudge', considered starting a band with Dando, although in the end the three just wrote music together, and hung out.
Dando would take these songs with him back to America, when he returned in 1990.
Rejoining The Lemonheads, Dando's experience in Australia would form the backbone of what would be the band's breakthrough record.
Their 1992 album, 'It's a Shame About Ray', was a critical and commercial success, and one of the defining records of the era. The band's jangling guitars, and Dando's bittersweet, melodic voice, perfectly complemented each other on a series of classically styled pop songs.
The band's fame was assured when they produced an enduringly popular, punk-style cover of the Simon and Garfunkel track 'Mrs Robinson.' Dalton would subsequently join the Lemonheads himself, and serve as one of their guitarists, playing and touring for two years, before returning to Australia.
Handsome, sensitive and laconic, Evan Dando seemed like the quintessential 90s rockstar. He also developed a drug problem, Drinking heavily and smoking crack cocaine, and his behaviour was erratic at times.
The Lemonheads released a follow-up album, 'Car Button Cloth', in 1996 that was well received but less successful, before splitting up the following year.
Without the band to focus his energy, Dando's drug and alcohol problems worsened and his behaviour became increasingly unpredictable. Appearing as a solo act, although mostly still playing Lemonheads songs, he sometimes appeared disoriented onstage, and would even just walk off in the middle of the set.
In 2003, Dando finally faced his drug problems and entered rehab.
This appeared to be successful, and after his release he recorded his first solo album of new material, 'Baby I'm Bored'. The cleaned up, healthier singer would support this album with a world tour.
For the Australian leg of the tour, Dando turned to his old friend and colleague Dalton, asking him to play bass. Dalton agreed, and he became part of what appeared, on paper, to be something of an alt-rock supergroup; alongside Dando and Dalton were former Dinosaur jr drummer George Berz, and You Am I guitarist Davey Lane.
As part of this tour, two shows were set for Melbourne, in August 2003.
But it soon became apparent that Dando's new, cleaner lifestyle had not entirely taken hold.
Sporting a beard, a trench coat and heavy, lidded eyes, Dando's first show at The Prince was something of a mess. The singer, clearly not entirely with it, began his set by mocking the venue:
'This place used to rule! Now it sucks. God bless gentrification, right?'
-Evan Dando, on stage at The Prince
Things went downhill from there.
Clearly intoxicated, Dando mumbled his way through most of the songs, slurring the words incoherently. He appeared completely lost at times, and stood inertly for long stretches, as the band struggled to find its rhythym.
'The gig was a sonic disaster. To call the band under-rehearsed would be kind, and Dando's slacker dude persona is a habit he could afford to lose.
With much apology, Dando would blame the shambles on jetlag and food posioning.
Apology was certainly due.'
-Michael Dwyer, review in 'The Age'
Standing on the corner of the stage, Dalton plucked at his bass, looking unimpressed. He would leave the band immediately after the show, his participation in the tour over.
Although whether he was fired, as originally announced, or left as a protest against Dando's behaviour, has never been established. Dalton later commented, when tempers had cooled, that he left because he was 'unwell'.
Whatever the explanation, with a second show the following night, Dando was now without a bass player. Whether due to his own laid back nature, or because he was not making clear decisions, Dando simply decided to forge on without one.
The second Melbourne gig was set for August 2, 2003 at The Hi Fi Bar on Swanston Street. It would go down as one of the most notorious gigs in the city's long musical history.
The night started unremarkably enough; the set opening with Dando onstage, by himself, singing a Lemonheads number, The Outdoor Type. He appeared stoned, but in control of himself, his long hair hanging across his face, shirtless under a heavy jacket.
Things became strange as the rest of the band joined him for the next song.
Accompanying the group onstage was an unknown, waif-like young girl, who promptly joined Dando at the microphone.
To everyone's amazement, the girl then proceeded to hold up lyrics sheets for Dando to sing from. He was so wasted that he couldn't remember the words to his own famous songs.
Later, at Dando's urging, the girl would even join in on some of them, singing soft back up vocals to the mystification of everyone present.
' What followed was a show that resembled a train wreck.
Perhaps hinting at the reason for the onstage disarray, Dando announced a shopping list of drugs that would be available backstage, for 'anyone who has a backstage pass.'
For an encore, Dando returned to the stage alone, hopping onto the drums for a wild, messy, solo medley.
Some fans cheered, but most were gape mouthed. A lot had already left in disgust. This was a performance that will surely go down as one of the most shambolic ever staged in Melbourne.'
-Jo Roberts, review in 'The Age'
As a remarkable epilogue to the story, the young girl on stage would later find fame herself as the singer Missy Higgins.
Higgins, a Lemonheads fan but then totally unknown, had talked her way into the sound check earlier in the day, in the hope of catching a glimpse of Dando. She and Dando had begun talking, and he had impulsively insisted that she join the band on the stage.
Despite the chaos of the Melbourne shows, the group was able to salvage something from the rest of the tour. Dando had cleaned himself up somewhat by the time they played two shows in Sydney a week later, and the musicians had more time to rehearse, making for a tighter live set.
Reviews for the Sydney shows were moderately positive, and the tour continued.
In subsequent years, Dando has continued an up and down trajectory.
He has detoxed a number of times, and fallen off the wagon a number of times. He still tours regularly, and has been back to Australia for other solo performances. His live presence is still somewhat hit and miss, he has good nights and bad, which has almost become part of buying a ticket to watch him perform.
Recalling his infamous Hi Fi Bar gig in an interview in 2006, Dando simply dismissed the whole thing:
'The only thing I regret now is that everyone remembers it. People keep writing about it, and I can't believe people are still interested in that shit.'