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Still yapping after all these years: the ever-animated Henry Rollins. Photo: John Whipple

Bigmouth Strikes Again
By Shawn Stone

Henry Rollins
The Egg, Feb. 8

Henry Rollins is a superhuman talker. On Sunday night, he yapped nonstop for three hours on one sip of water. No exaggeration—in a clear case of mouth-over-matter, he took one shot out of a water bottle halfway through the evening, mid-story, in less time than most people use to take a quick breath. The highly opinionated Rollins leads a curious life, and never ran out of interesting things to say. The adoring crowd in the sold-out Hart Theater might have stayed as long as Rollins wanted to keep going.

Much of the evening was like a status report on Rollins’ life since his last visit: the Rollins Band world tour to raise money for the West Memphis Three; a fascinating USO tour of Afghanistan and Central Asia; and random events in his shlub’s life, like his surreal home encounter with a burglar.

Rollins has been working the spoken-word racket for so long, he’s developed the timing and skills of a master comedian—except that he doesn’t pause to collect the laughs. Instead, he plunges mouth-first into his next bit while the audience plays catch-up. His stories, however much they seem to ramble, have the solid structural underpinnings of a tank.

Example: It may have taken the better part of an hour with numerous digressions, but the epic tale of Rollins’ six-year romance with Sheryl Crow was a fully developed work. Consisting of exactly three personal encounters, each phase of the “affair” ended with a spectacular, ego-crushing zinger from Crow. The bit mocked romance, audience expectations, the culture of celebrity and music snobbery with style.

In the setup to the Crow story, Rollins made it seem like he was going to actually reveal something about himself. He knew how to play us like suckers, though, and never lifted the curtain of irony protecting his personal life.

Rollins was hesitant on the subject of politics. Though he has no use for the man he repeatedly referred to as “our dear president,” Rollins stayed clear of elaborating on his own opinions. As a guy who has always angrily rejected being told what to think, it made sense that he wasn’t going to spew polemics on the audience. Still, it was the weak part of the show.

If there’s any lesson to be learned from Rollins’ career, it’s that you’ll never get rich playing hardcore. You can, however, eke out a decent living by working the margins of the entertainment industry: operating a small publishing company, playing bit parts in movies and giving low-overhead spoken-word performances.

It’s his place on the margins that led to one of the funniest bits: The story of how Ben Folds brought him to Nashville to duet with William Shatner on the thespian’s upcoming album. Henry and Bill traded raps/rants on a track called “I Can’t Get Behind That,” and went out to a dinner for which Shatner had the scallops specially shipped in. As you begin to wrap your mind around that, let’s add that Adrian Belew showed up to play on the track, too. His terrific impersonation of Captain Kirk, and the demented absurdity of the situation, were Rollins at his best.

Come On Feel the Nostalgia

Evan Dando
Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, Mass., Feb. 7

There was a short time about 10 or 12 years ago when it looked like Evan Dando was ready to take over the world. With an everchanging lineup of Lemonheads backing him, the man who would be slacker king issued what is widely considered to be one of the most essential albums of the 1990s in It’s a Shame About Ray—a quick and snappy collection of power-folk ditties that could have defined a movement had it not been drawn into the undertow created by grunge’s tidal wave. To add insult to injury (sort of), the Lemonheads’ biggest popular victory came when Atlantic Records reissued Ray with the addition of a fun, yet disposable, take on “Mrs. Robinson.” In any case, for a little while there, you couldn’t walk by a newsstand without seeing Dando’s bloodshot eyes peering out at you—he was even voted “Sexiest Man Alive” by People at one point. A well-documented fall from grace followed, complete with the requisite drug problems and some less-than-wonderful recordings, and when a posthumous, contract-fulfilling “Best Of” collection appeared in 1998, it looked like we might have heard the last of our man Evan.

Miraculously, Dando managed to clean up his act and resurfaced on the live circuit a few years back; that path culminated in Baby I’m Bored, his proper debut as a solo artist. Dando Mach II is basically a more rugged, world-weary, no-nonsense version of the indie-rock pinup cutie from 10 years ago—he still looks a little bleary-eyed, but he’s finally got his shit together. Looking every bit the rhinestone cowboy in a purple velvet coat with sequined lapels and pink fringe, he took the Iron Horse stage to polite applause from the just-about-full house. Armed with his vintage Gibson acoustic, those trademark bangs (can he even see through those things?), and a deep, deep catalog of songs, he plowed whole hog through a fan-pleasing 27-song set in less than 90 minutes.

Saturday night’s show was almost the opposite of a typical “career artist” performance. Usually, someone at Dando’s stage in the game will open with a few old ones to get the crowd’s interest, then play almost an entire set of new material before throwing a few old bones in at the end. Instead, the set sounded as if the audience had been polled for their favorites. Dando knew what the people wanted to hear (although one gets the feeling he just does whatever the hell he wants to do), which was lean on songs from the Lemonheads glory days (“Into Your Arms,” “Confetti,” “The Great Big No”). Granted, the omission of more recent material was kind of a bummer—Baby I’m Bored is a wonderful collection and well worth the attention—but I, for one, couldn’t complain; hearing those perfect little songs again brought back all the good memories from high school (crap, I’ve told you too much!), and the newer stuff was like icing on an already-towering birthday cake. The Iron Horse’s cozy, college-coffeehouse-like atmosphere made the whole thing feel much more familiar and personal than it would have on a larger stage, as if Dando had dropped in to rock your best friend’s sleepover party.

Predictably, Dando treated the audience to an equal share of humor and self-examination in his song selection. Earnest, adorable trifles like “Being Around,” “Stove” and “The Outdoor Type” (the sole selection from the iffy Car Button Cloth) mingled nicely with more introspective fare like “Buddy” and the oft-misunderstood “Big Gay Heart.” The new material, including “My Idea” and the Ben Lee-penned “All My Life,” sparkled in the company of the Lemonheads standards, and his liberal dispersal of covers (Big Star’s “Nighttime,” a fine trio of Gram Parsons numbers) kept both the fans and waitstaff smiling, bopping and singing along (maybe that’s why it took 10 minutes to get a frickin’ beer). A few nonbelievers were seen exiting the club well before the show’s conclusion—fools!—proving that this show was primarily for those who were there for the first go-round, and for those of us who were hanging on every note, the rejuvenated Evan Dando made it seem as if the past 10 years never happened.

—John Brodeur

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