From those to whom much is given, much is expected. Therein lies Evan Dando's greatest enemy — his good fortune. Inspired by bands like the Replacements and Hüsker Dü, Dando formed the Lemonheads with his Boston high school buddies Ben Deily and Jesse Peretz back in the mid-'80s. In the course of just over five years, they'd go from opening for the Pixies their second show to gracing magazine covers as the Next Big Thing while supporting their truly terrific '92 breakout, It's a Shame About Ray.
By that point, Deily and Peretz were long gone. The album — which employed big jangly power-pop and alt-rock hooks to survey the experiences of the burnt-out and, as one song put it, "rudderless" — offered a clear signal where things were going. You don't have to read between the lines to understand the context of a stark junkie ode like "My Drug Buddy." The sadness is palpable in its combination of knowing ignorance and resigned indifference.
"It seems like, why would someone knowing all those things go ahead and get sucked into that bullshit habit?" says Dando. "It's just that thing where you just don't care, and you want to do something really stupid in your 20s. What can I say but that it seemed like you should go through it if you do music. You don't have to, really. But I thought I did at the time."
Given the tone of It's a Shame About Ray, it was hardly surprising when Dando broke up the Lemonheads five years later, after two more scattershot releases and an escalating drug problem. Reminded of that moment when it all seemed lined up for him, Dando evinces little regret.
"I think it's this thing where if you hang around enough in show business doing your thing, you do get your shot if you want it," says the musician, who lives a more low-profile life in Brooklyn these days. "I enjoyed it. I felt lucky to be in the right place at the right time. All my friends were doing really well. It was just a really fun time."
But to outsiders, it may have seemed more like a racecar that pulls out in front of the pack and proceeds to plow into a wall. Dando laughs softly. "It was maybe a bit more dramatic from where you were sitting. It was sort of normal to me going through the whole thing. It was no big deal."
Dando returned in 2001 with a live disc, and in 2003 with a solo acoustic album, Baby I'm Bored. Some credited it as a return to form, others were less impressed. A couple years later he reformed the Lemonheads, hungry for that electrified sound. They released a self-titled disc in 2006 that wasn't bad, and followed up with an album of covers, Vashon, in '09.
For this tour, Dando's celebrating the 20th anniversary of It's a Shame About Ray by playing the album from start-to-finish. He explains that much of it was written in Australia, while opening up for Fugazi, a real straight-edge/straight-to-hell double-shot. It was '91, just before Nirvana took off. "It was before the whole alt-rock explosion, right when it was happening," he recalls. "It was like the last innocent thing before things got kind of big."