Evan Dando & Spencer P Jones Live at Labour In Vein
It was a brief observation, conveyed – as social matters usually are in these technologically advance times – by text message that led me to the Labour in Vain mid-evening tonight. “SPJ playing Labour In Vain tonight. Not sure what time”, read the message. The prospect of seeing Spencer playing in the Labour In Vain was enough to cause a slight deviation in my plans; a cursory logistical analysis suggested there was little to be lost in dropping into the pub after concluding my last minute Christmas shopping in Carlton.
Alas, Spencer had finished his set by the time I’d purchase my entreé pint of Cooper’s Dark Ale. The crowd, however, wasn’t leaving. A four-square metre area, bordered by a couple of microphone stands and a litter of guitar cases, had been constructed in the corner of the pub. A thin figure shuffled to the make-shift stage, his long, scraggy hair obscuring his features; the profile was vaguely familiar. The figure slung an acoustic guitar over his shoulders, which he hunched like a teenager struggling to make small talk at a high school social. A friend who’d I’d not set eyes on for a couple of years muttered “Yeah, this guy’s going to play next”.
That guy, of course, was Evan Dando. So long a regular visitor to Australian shores, Dando has – for better and for worse – accumulated a wealth of local 'friends’, a percentage of whom remain happy to exploit Dando’s acquaintance for innocent and nefarious ends. Like so many of his shows over the years, Dando’s appearance tonight wasn’t guaranteed until it happened; once it was real, it was unforgettable.
Refusing to lift his gaze from his Converse-housed feet, Dando ran through a half-hour semi-greatest hits set. Consistent with the theme of his latest Australian tour, the set was heavy on It’s A Shame About Ray – you can never hear Rudderless too many times, and the Thunders-like paradoxical beauty of My Drug Buddy has rarely been so vivid.
The playing was rough and ready, verging on sloppy in places; no-one cared, and nor should they. Dando’s golden voice remains a stream of light against his otherwise dark existence. The songs are riddled with a pop sensibility that a gamma-ray couldn’t threaten. Every song a winner, every moment to die for.
The end came swift, with a characteristic enigma flourish: the guitar pulled off and returned to its case. Dando wandered out with barely a disingenuous wave to the crowd. The crowd cheered, but an encore was never going to happen. But what had been witnessed would be remembered forever.