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They must have seen it coming. By signing up to play a series of intimate acoustic shows, the first of which took place Wednesday at New York City's Mercury Lounge, Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield opened themselves up to the kinds of catcalls and "are they or aren't they?" romantic speculation that dogged them throughout the '90s. Back in the day, Dando and Hatfield were a sort of alternative alt-rock "it" couple. Coy and underexposed, they were the East Coast antithesis of Kurt and Courtney. The Boston rockers shied away from discussing their relationship and made it through the decade without dying or becoming caricatures -- no small feat. Still, they've got 20-plus years of personal history, and along with stunning good looks that have hardly faded over the years, that's enough to distract some folks from the music. "You're adorable!" one female fan screamed at the start of Wednesday's show, before the duo had even played a song. If Dando and Hatfield heard her comment, they ignored it, launching into 'Paid to Smile,' originally recorded by Dando's longtime group, the Lemonheads. The 21-song set featured a mix of his and her tunes, and they followed the opener with 'Choose Drugs,' from Hatfield's 2000 'Beautiful Creature' album. With the line, "I say it's me or drugs/you choose drugs," the tune was among those amateur psychologists in attendance might have reasoned were about Dando, who struggled with addiction in the '90s. More explicit was 'Evan,' aired late in the set, which Hatfield admitted was about the guy sitting to her right. Trading her usual wounded-pixie vocals for a decidedly huskier tone, she sang of meeting and falling for Dando, drawing two conclusions: "I love you, I guess," and, "We could never be."



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