Raising the ’Head 

After a decade incognito, Evan Dando resurrects himself and The Lemonheads.

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For a moment, Lemonheads mastermind Evan Dando was the coolest dude on the planet. It was the fall of 1993. The Lemonheads had a hit song and a stellar album. Dando was in the movies and on MTV. He even popped up on the cover of magazines like Sassy and named one of People’s sexiest guys around. He was walking in a bubble of hype, one so large it would make the current crop of blogosphere buzz bands detonate in a splat of blood and gray matter. The guy was omnipresent and underground. He was a rock star and a slacker. He was a Gen-X god. Critics loved him. Girls had naughty dreams about him. He was so large that he even sparked a bile-filled fanzine, the short-lived I Hate Evan Dando. That’s power.

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But then it was over. By spring of ’94, The Lemonheads were a punch line. “Into Your Arms,” the one hit off of the band’s supposed star-making album, Come On Feel the Lemonheads, faded from the radio. Soon after, the disc became a mainstay in the cutout bins. The band began to implode. Dando went into a crack-pipe nosedive. He didn’t manage to pull out for three years'roughly the amount of time it takes for fans to stop caring completely. When he released Car Button Cloth in 1996 with an entirely new Lemonheads lineup, no one noticed. Evan Dando was done. Except he didn’t know it.

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“I didn’t go anywhere,” he says now, with a little revisionist chuckle. “I never stopped working. I’ve always been out there doing something.”

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And Dando is partially right. He did keep working'just no one knew it. After The Lemonhead’s final show at the Reading Festival in England, Dando disappeared for three years. When he popped up in late 2000, playing a couple solo shows, as well as hooking up with old friend Juliana Hatfield and her band The Blake Babies, he infamously joked he’d been off “doing monitors for Enya.” In fact, he was getting clean and getting married, both of which seemed to mellow him out enough by 2001 to launch a solo tour.

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The response was surprising. Young kids like Ben Kweller and Ben Lee played sets with him, gushing in admiration about his influence. A couple compilation albums full of Internet fan tributes popped up in England. He wrote songs with The Dandy Warhols, did a stint with a reformed MC5. He even released a solo album, Baby I’m Bored, a hushed and introspective record that scored only critic adulation here but grabbed a Top 40 spot in Britain.

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Through all that, though, there was never any mention of The Lemonheads'or at least, a resurrection of the band. It was just Evan, and that seemed to be enough for him. “Really, I was just waiting,” he admits. “I had the songs. I was just doing a lot of waiting, trying to find the right people'the people who could do the songs justice, who I felt I could do it all again with.”

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In fact, he found two guys who’d pretty much done it all'several times. In 2005, Dando recruited drummer Bill Stevenson and bassist Karl Alvarez, both best known for their work in punk legends The Descendents, but who’d also handled a slew of production and engineering work. The three set up shop in a studio in Fort Collins, Colo., banged out 11 tracks built on the classic Lemonheads model: short, succinct songs crammed so full of shimmering hooks that, if it weren’t for Dando’s hound dog delivery, would be sickeningly sweet. The group even convinced another ’90s icon, Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis, to come sit in on a couple tracks, adding a few blistering solos over Dando’s jangling pop tracks.

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The result is both odd and stunning. The Lemonheads (released by sprawling indie Vagrant Records) sounds exactly like 1993'which either means Dando is caught in the past, or his classic breakthrough disc It’s a Shame About Ray really is a timeless hunk of brilliance. A spin through the somber and sparkling “Become the Enemy” tips the scales toward the latter. Over a swell of three chords, Dando makes simple lines like, “Oh what you say to me/ It’s not how love is supposed to be,” seem like weighty prose, his gentle coo adding depth to a standard tale of suburban imperfection. And on “Pittsburgh,” a three-minute jangle of flannel and angst, Dando channels the alt-rock revolution like the leader he once was'right down to the clanging chorus and sweet harmonies.

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“I love a good hook'always have,” he says. “I’ve always liked getting right to the hook and then getting out quickly. It’s fun to mess around every now and then, but I really wanted this album to get to the point, to really capture the spirit of The Lemonheads. And I think the next one will be the same way. We’re ready to keep doing this for a while.”

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THE LEMONHEADS
nThe Depot
n400 W. South Temple
nFriday, Dec. 1
n9 p.m.
nDepotSLC.com

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Jeff Inman

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