EVAN DANDO at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Tuesday (June 17). $17.50. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
the first thing 90s rock casualty Evan Dando tells me point blank when I call him up in New York City is that he ain't gonna talk about drugs.What happened to the cracked-out former Lemonheads main man who hit the pipe so hard he was unintelligible during an interview with Brit rag NME and got booked for possession (smack and LSD) at an Aussie airport?
This Dando is confident, caustic and highly articulate. After the Lemonheads split with label Atlantic back in 97, the dude hit rock bottom, bounced back with a so-so solo tour in 2001, got hitched to model Elizabeth Simon and cleaned up his act. Now he's back for real, with a new acoustic album, Baby I'm Bored (Bar None), that features a slew of sweet alt-country-tinged ditties co-penned with a handful of his best pals (folks ranging from big-eared Oz indie star Ben Lee to Spacehog's Royston Langdon).
"As for coping," Dando offers, "I have a lot of ways of dealing with stuff. My wife helps a lot, and I've got a shrink who gives me some stuff to get by, and I'm on this stuff that keeps me from drinking. I have a couple scripts, you know.
"Drugs used to be my obsession, and now I'm really obsessed with music. Not that I think I'm gonna die any time soon, but before I die of natural causes or whatever I wanna do something really great."
Baby I'm Bored (a play on the Baby On Board bumper stickers gracing the cars of new parents) is a solid first stab, though he's not writing much alone. Aimee Mann collaborator Jon Brion co-wrote almost half of the dozen tunes, while a pair of heartbreaking low-key anthems of self-deprecation were solely penned by Ben Lee.
However, the only song written entirely by Dando, the quietly lovely strummed folkie In The Grass All Wine-Colored, is the highlight of the disc.
He gets riled up when I suggest Baby I'm Bored's nu-Americana slant marks a trend-following change from the Lemonheads' sunny suburban alt-rock.
"I covered Gram Parsons songs in 1990. I don't know why people say it's some new thing. Big Gay Heart is totally country.
"When there's no direction, when no one knows where to go, what do you do? You go back to Hank Williams and Gram Parsons and stuff. There's so much good stuff in records from the past. I don't listen to anything that's happening these days."
His voice gets quiet when he reminisces about Kurt Cobain. Although he says the two were pals, details of their interactions are sketchy. In fact, Courtney Love had a much-publicized crush on Dando, and the two were shot in a tangle of sheets for a magazine fashion layout.
After Cobain's initial overdose in Italy back in the winter of 1994, he flashed a photo of Dando's face at the rabid photographers who showed up at the hospital. The paparazzi were puzzled.
"I'll tell you the story behind that," stammers Dando.
"He was just trying to block the photographers from the window, and he had a poster with me on one side and a picture of Björk on the other side, so he made the decision to either look at me or look at Björk. So it ended up looking like he was putting a picture of me up, but you gotta remember the other side of the poster.
"I was in Australia when I heard about it. That's when I shaved my head, 'cause I was so bummed. We thought he was gonna die and stuff. Can't even really listen to Nirvana still any more. I was really too close to all that. It was such a sad moment."