The slack fest began with The Candles, a follicly gifted four piece from New York, fronted by Josh Lattanzi (Albert Hammond, Jr., Ben Kweller). Lattanzi and his posse of ill-groomed gents rocked the stage in a mild frenzy, sometimes channeling the burnt out dejection of Generation X and sometimes appearing happy. The Candles cite James Taylor and The Strokes as influences, but a better comparison may be Cameron Crowe and his deft hand at creating sentimentality for the masses. Where “Almost Famous” made sense of the 70s without isolating younger audiences the Candles tackle the mellow, nearly-bored façade of mid-90s “alt rock” without seeming bored. As the set progressed, so did one distinct divergence from their moody predecessors: these men are conscientious musicians. No bratty impulses or need for speed; in fact, it’s obvious the band is interested in nurturing creativity (hooks, harmonies, kicky little twangs) over deadbeat showmanship. “Here or Gone” sounds a bit like a Freedy Johnston b-side for the open road, albeit prettier, cleaner, catchier. Just as Kate Hudson’s version of a “band-aid” was prettier and cleaner (and a better catch) than the originals, the Candles give us nostalgia, repackaged.
Conversely, watching Evan Dando perform in 2010 hardly differed from watching him with the Lemonheads in 1992*. I came to this conclusion when I literally felt bummed out. Few things prompt soul pain like a forty-two-year-old “slacker sex kitten” whose unassuming stage presence suggests a lifetime of discomfort**. Dando arrived late to the venue, cruised through his set on autopilot, barely spoke a coherent word to his fans, and exited amidst a POOF of rose-colored fog. Yet, for all his quirks and tics, the sex kitten’s signature baritone was in steady form, perhaps due to the stripped down nature of the show. Armed only with guitar and a visual backdrop of road footage, Dando strummed along dutifully; there were not hits or misses, only reality. Of course, the evening wasn’t a total downer; the crowd, though sparse, accepted their idol’s bizarre mannerisms. To wit, instances when Dando got a hearty cheer: removed his hat, played “My Drug Buddy,” played anything from the Lemonheads archive, requested a shot of tequila, mentioned getting stoned, including when he sang “I don’t wanna not get stoned.”
After being accosted by a group of die-hard Lemonheads fans (“What’s your favorite Lemonheads album? Do you even know who the Lemonheads are?”), I reflected on the evening. Behind me, Dando struggled with the contents of his backpack, and I had a thought: if life imitates art imitates life, is Evan Dando simply being or is he being “Evan Dando?” With no answers in sight and a stomach full of post-adolescent angst, I exited amidst my own poof of rose-colored fog, imagining that somewhere in the city a lanky musician was ordering room service and contemplating not not getting stoned.***
The Candles are currently on tour, supporting Evan Dando. For a complete list of dates, visit their Website or Myspace. “Here or Gone” is available for download on iTunes; the full-length album will be released April 13. You can find Dando prowling the Interwebs HERE and HERE and HERE. His latest album, Varshons (2009), can be purchased via website.
*I never saw the Lemonheads in the 90s but I once spent an afternoon watching “Reality Bites,” “Singles” and “Empire Records.”
**This was accentuated by the comically large winter jacket he wore during the entire show.
***Sorry for the existentialism.