June 21, 2024

The Evan Dando Incident

Evan Dando was a rock star with a well-known drug problem. His 2003 meltdown at a gig in Melbourne became the stuff of local music legend.

The Lemonheads shortly after their formation
The Lemonheads shortly after their formation

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, Dando became interested in music 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. They did not initially find much 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.

Evan Dando on a backpacking tour to Australia
Dando in Australia, wearing a 'Smudge' t-shirt

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.

It's a Shame About Ray cover

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.

Dando in the 1990s
Evan Dando: quintessential 90s rock star

Handsome, sensitive and laconic, Evan Dando seemed like the quintessential 90s rockstar. He also developed a drug problem; he drank heavily, smoked 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. They split 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 seemed disoriented onstage. On a few occasions, he  even just walked off in the middle of a set.

Evan Dando cover for 'Baby I'm Bored'

In 2003, Dando finally faced his drug problems and entered rehab.

This appeared to be successful, and after his recovery 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, Dando turned to his old friend and colleague Dalton, asking him to play bass. Dalton agreed, and became part of what appeared 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.

Poster for Evan Dando on his in famous tour of Melbourne
Poster for the Melbourne gigs

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.

Dando during the Prince of Wales show
Dando during the Prince of Wales show

Sporting a beard, a trench coat and heavy, lidded eyes, Dando's first show at The Prince was something of a mess. The singer 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 rhythm.

'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 poisoning.

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, was never confirmed. Dalton later commented 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, he 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 live music history.

The night started unremarkably: Dando onstage, by himself, singing 'The Outdoor Type'. He appeared 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.

Dando and Missy Higgins, onstage at the Hi Fi Bar
Dando and the mystery girl, onstage at the Hi Fi Bar

Accompanying the group onstage was an unknown young girl, who promptly joined Dando at the microphone.

To everyone's amazement, the girl then proceeded to hold up lyric sheets for Dando to sing from. He required help to 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.

Missy Higgins performing onstage, 2018.
Missy Higgins performing onstage, 2018.

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 stage.

Despite the chaos of the Melbourne shows, the group was able to salvage something from the rest of the tour. Dando had gathered himself somewhat by the time they played 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.

Dando appearing at 'A Day on the Green', Newcastle, 2018
Dando appearing at 'A Day on the Green', Newcastle, 2018

In subsequent years, Dando has continued an up and down trajectory.

He has detoxed, and relapsed, a number of times. He still tours regularly, and has been back to Australia for other solo performances. His live presence remains hit and miss; there are good shows and bad, which has almost become part of buying a ticket to watch him perform.

You never know which Evan Dando will show up.

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.'


- Evan Dando


One thought on “The Evan Dando Incident

  1. “Standing on the corner of the stage, [Nic] 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’.”

    Dalton stated in an interview two years later that he was suffering from an undiagnosed brain hemorrhage during the Prince of Wales concert:

    Q: “Would you ever consider playing with the band again if the right situation arose?”

    A: “Most definitely. In fact, if I hadn’t got sick during the middle of 2003 I believe I would be touring with Evan even as we speak. When I heard Baby I’m Bored, I thought it was the best record Evan had ever done, he’d finally found himself and done the dark country pop record that was in him. So he asked me to play bass on the up coming Austy tour and then I was going to continue touring in the US starting October ’03. Evan sent through a set that was 12 Lemonheads songs and 8 Baby I’m Bored songs. I rehearsed on the farm for over a month, all the songs coming back easily. We’d call each other up, excited that we were ‘reforming’ and couldn’t wait to start playing. Then disaster struck. The night before our first band rehearsal in Melbourne, I was in Sydney at a Sneeze recording session and had a brain haemorrhage. I didn’t realise that’s what it was at the time and the next day flew to Melbourne for the Evan shows, I thought my back had gone again and given me the worst migraine. Rehearsal was okay, but the first show… I don’t even remember being there. That was the last time I saw Evan. Six days later my Dad took me to hospital where it was discovered I’d had a brain haemorrhage. So that was the end of touring with Evan. I’m fully recovered now, although my right hand still can’t play keyboard, strum or write as well as I used to.”

    (source: https://www.evandando.co.uk/nicdalton)

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