Evan Dando and the Lemonheads tour Saigon

The Lemonheads was a name I had almost forgotten. Huge in the 90’s but having disappeared from the limelight for many years when the group took a lengthy hiatus, my friends and I could barely think of a song of theirs other than their cover of “Mrs Robinson”. But then I remembered that Evan Dando, the lead singer was known as an amazing performer and songwriter with as much grit as Neil Young or Kurt Kobain and I refreshed my memory with the help of some loud YouTube videos.

When Evan came to Saigon with his band he certainly brought the 90’s grunge scene with him. Try as I might, I never caught his face uncovered by his chin-length hair for more than a couple of seconds the entire night.

From the moment he stepped out, he was unhappy with his levels. He kept playing around with his equipment and pausing his playing while letting the band fill in. Something seemed up with the man, but he pounded out his earliest hits such as Tenderfoot with deafening veracity.

Both my friend I was attending with and another who wandered past and recognised me stuck their fingers in their ears and said “So loud”. I tried to assure them, “Just wait. He’s just getting the loud Lemonheads stuff out of his system. After 4 or 5 songs he’ll settle down”.

He came out and began a solo number after the rest of the band walked off stage except the second guitarist but something went wrong. Frustrated, Dando cut his mic and yelled something angrily to the side of stage and pointed at his co-guitarist. He walked straight off stage in what to onlookers appeared some sort of range. The lights went dark. The crowd screamed support but at the same time wondered what was going on.

A second later, Dando returned with a different acoustic guitar in his hands and leaned in to give an order to his guitarist and then flashed a smile to the crowd and started over.

From that moment on, we saw a different Dando. The songs slowed down. We heard ballads about drinking and drugs and relationships. We heard “Hard Drive” mumbled in almost unintelligible tones, but the emotion was palpable. Standing directly in front of Dando at the front of the stage, I kept putting my camera down from my face and trying to look at him.

I couldn’t look at the man. I don’t know why, but even though he was acknowledging my presence there and the annoying but necessary flash photography, he didn’t want to meet anyone’s eyes and I couldn’t look him in the face either. I just looked up at his guitar and his stance and I swayed my head and felt the lyrics deep inside me without watching them leave his mouth. Dando was somewhere else while he was singing, and I think many of us who were listening to him were as well.

I wished desperately for him to play “Waiting to Die” or the other songs that he had made famous but there was to be no covers tonight. Mrs Robinson was not going to appear. I think most of the crowd were disappointed to not hear the songs they recognised, and there were a huge amount of very rude people talking very loudly near the front of stage while some of his fans strained desperately to concentrate on Dando’s solo words and emotion over the sea of Vietnamese chatter.

Casual fans or random ticketholders might not have been very impressed by Evan Dando and the Lemonheads but despite his constant frustration with his sound, I think there was what felt like a solid hour of magic with just Dando alone standing on the stage in front of us, pouring his heart out with either just a single red spotlight on him, or often no light at all as he stood in near darkness with his hair hiding him from world in front of him. It wasn’t a perfect concert and not everyone got what they expected, but some of us got a magical moment where the rest of the world disappeared and it was just us and Evan Dando, singing about life.

And he still got in that one crowd pleaser “Outdoor Life” which was the only track where a large percentage of the crowd sang along with big smiles on their face, connecting for at least that moment.

Evan Dando in Saigon was a treat just because he came. Because he was there and he gave us a couple of hours of life, playing well past his scheduled finishing time and letting many of us walk away to our motorbike parking dazed at the subtle and beautiful words and simple rhythm guitars sandwiched in between deafening grunge anthems. I was not disappointed that I came. It’s just that we all sort of felt like Cargo bar was a time machine that had transported us back 20 years. It was an unusual night and an unusual performance.

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