EVAN DANDO + John Kastner + Elizabeth Powell @ Main Hall

By Alex Huynh - Losing My Edge - 02/08/2006

Nostalgia being the obvious theme of the soirée, there was another common thread among the three artists on the bill: they were to be accompanied only by their own guitar. Often, this works great because of the added emotional resonance, the effect of a song laid bare and naked. Other times, it can simply be boring. With three sets with the same spartan layout, the risk of the latter ran dangerously high. Thankfully, nostalgia can be a powerful weapon.

First up was Elizabeth Powell (Land Of Talk), who erased any doubts of her place on the bill by overtaking the audience with her powerful voice, despite performing the night before with her band and celebrating her birthday. Her voice was constantly breaking but without being whiny or overly vulnerable; instead, it was potent and gave the impression of veering out of control yet always in command. The lyrics might describe the tales, but the real story was told by the vocals. There might have been a few converts after this short gutsy performance.

Having known only The Doughboys through the constant video rotation of "Shine" and not having the foresight of doing my homework by exploring their pre-major label material, nostalgia would have a limited effect on me during John Kastner's set. As it turned out, that wasn't entirely true. The songs sounded familiar because they harked back to that specific era of weary yet hopeful power pop. Most people in the audience, whether they mouthed along or not, have had their heart strings wired to that sound and Kastner did a wonderful job reactivating them.

Anticipation ran high for Evan Dando's return on a Montreal stage since The Lemonheads performed at the Cabaret back in 1994. Adding to the suspense was whether his plane from Boston would arrive in time -- and Dando isn't exactly a shoo-in for border-crossing --- and what condition and mood he'd be in. Opening with "Down About It" and "Being Around" from 1993's Come On Feel The Lemonheads, he dispelled any doubt that this would be a magical night for the hardcore fans. This is where I want to skip ahead the track selection (short answer: he played almost all of them) and explain my position. I am not a hardcore fan. While I enjoyed most of the Lemonheads' output -- and Dando's very pleasant solo album Baby I'm Bored -- I'm torn because I felt a lull even though I can definitely sense the connection between him and his audience. The question is, was the connection one-sided? Hearing songs that colored you a decade ago can certainly reignite feelings you haven't had while attending those Death From Above 1979 shows. Fine, but it seemed like most of the legwork was done by the audience, still under the spell of Dando's easy charm even after years of ups and downs (and downs).

On the other hand, there has always been this effortless earnestness in Dando's songs. He brought that quality to his performance, remaining aloof and untalkative, yet not closed off in the slightest (his short "thank you" after a crowd member's miserable attempt at filling in Juliana Hatfield's 'sunshine' part in "It's About Time" was smile-inducing). In that respect, it would be unfair to say that the show couldn't transcend nostalgia. It did what it set out to do: celebrating a great career in classic Dando fashion. Anything less -- or more to the point, anything more -- would have cheated the fans out of an authentic performance.

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