The early 90s—full of bad jeans, neon shirts, grunge denim and great musical movements. One of these was ‘college rock’, of which brought to the podium alt-prom king and queen, Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield. Tonight, they’re descending on the Sugar Club for a class reunion.
Meeting at an early age, Dando found fame with the Lemonheads, spawning some of the best alternative rock songs of the early 90s. Hatfield went a different direction with Blake Babies, but they always touched base to collaborate and perform together—like old friends that just can’t stay apart. Personal demons behind them—now there’s no need to, as they tour together with a selection of small intimate shows.
The duo walk on to a sold-out crowd, no band will be joining them. Just them and their guitars, that’s about as visually stimulating as it’s going to get. But Dando finds something interesting on the roof, focusing on it as he opens up with All My Life. Crowd engagement aside, these two work well together, with Hatfield’s harmonies sugary behind Dando’s trademark blunt drone.
Hatfield announces that they will be playing ‘song-pong’, a song here, a song there, a duet. The set is jittery and never quite as flowing as the basic set-up would seemingly entail. The crowd seemed keener on Dando’s hits, cheering loudly at the opening riffs of songs such as It’s About Time and Hospital. Enthusiastic calls from the audience naming which track to play next are promptly ignored, eventually garnering a meek “yeah they’re all good,” from Dando.
When it’s Juliana’s turn, she nails Candy Wrappers and Nirvana. Dando is content to just sip a pint while she sings Slow Motion, staring at her, his back to us. It’s a bit disconcerting, like he’d rather we not be there. But they work best together—he needs her. The usually sleazy, My Drug Buddy, is softened up with the introduction of Hatfield‘s vocal. It’s both sweet and dead-eyed, lax and eager. Her injection of uplifting tones to Paid to Smile almost makes the track cheery, while she’s the only one bringing some banter—if you could call it that.
Hatfield mumbles into her microphone about how she’s a bit Irish, a joke her taxi-driver told her, the usual stuff. Dando’s not much of a talker, keeping well away from his microphone when he does eventually mumble something, so we can’t hear him either way. It’s like they’re not even trying, but in a way that they actually are—they’re just too cool to admit it. Nothing should be perfect either, that’s lame. Dando slurs a bit through Bit Part, while Hatfield fails to hit the bigger notes on the likes of Chose Drugs and a cover of Velvet Underground’s Pale Blue Eyes.
Dando casually drops in subtleties that he actually cares, such as on Being Around when he sings “Would you get down on your knees and scrub me?” squeaking his guitar strings in a theatrical scrubbing gesture being probably the only time he looked at the audience and laughed along.
But don‘t get too excited. “We’re winging it, in case that wasn’t obvious.” It was. They tune their guitars in-between songs and confer silently with each other about what is coming next. If a set-list existed, they certainly acted like they weren’t following it. Wearing an orange hoodie and greasy hair hanging flat, Dando looked like he’d just gotten out of bed. He doesn’t care THAT MUCH guys. It’s in his pained-face though, he does.
Peppering the set with a cover of Teenage Fanclub’s Cells, Dando unplugs for the encore (one of 3), with Shame About Ray duly greeted by the crowd. He’s joined by Juliana for I Picked You Up and she performs Ugly alone—hoisting her guitar up on her knee, saying the chords are hard to reach but she hadn’t realised it as she rarely does it live.
After returning for the third time, they’re just indulging us now. Finally, Dando shows us out with a stripped-back rendition of Victoria Williams’ Frying Pan, leaving the audience more than satisfied—with duration anyway. The flow of material was inconsistent and sloppy, but when an old favourite is played, all of that can be forgiven. A soundtrack to youthful angst, the crowd can appreciate that they’re not still back there. But as Evan walks off, it’s clear he still is.