This unexpected (for me) John Doe concert in the middle of the week was like a breath of fresh air that made me forget about problems and other troubles,… ‘Work is cancelled!’ as he said with a big smile at the beginning of the show, looking at the crowd filling the club. Indeed, it’s hard to stay up till 12:30 am during a weekday, but who cares about work sometimes!
John Doe, with the help of Cindy Wasserman on backup vocals and three other musicians on guitar, bass and drums (I believe some of them were also from Cindy's band, Dead Rock West) put a country twist on many songs, including a few X classics such as ‘Burning house of Love’, ‘4th of July’, and ‘The New World’. All of them seemed so happy to play together, it was just a pleasure to watch, and John, wearing some elegant Western suit that he obstinately kept on during the whole show despite the heat, was talkative and joked around the whole evening. During a close-to-2-hour set, he hardly slowed down and the music blossomed from one song to the next one.
‘I really appreciate the efforts the Echo does to save the environment by not turning the air conditioning on!’ he said after the first song, already profusely sweating. It was the tone of the night, a happy night filled with some uplifting tunes and some sadder songs, but Doe was not decided to let the playful mood of the evening go down, as if he were telling us that life is made of happy and sad moments, but we should definitively decide to focus on the happy ones.
Doe had an undeniable strong stage presence, talking about his life in ‘cold and brutal’ North California between songs, then beautifully harmonizing his recognizable baritone with Wasserman’s pretty high voice during the whole performance, playing a lot of songs for his latest album ‘Keeper’, and also digging in his solo material and of course performing a few X songs, which received a warm response from the crowd. The slide guitar was in plain action and the drummer, who really was from Kentucky, was sometimes switching to banjo.
Was X really a punk band? Of course, what a stupid question! Their 1980 self-titled album recently made number 2 on the LA Weekly 20 greatest LA punk albums of all time, just behind Black Flag’s ‘Damaged’, but you wouldn’t really guess now, listening to the country flare going all over Doe’s repertoire. But when I say country, it is the Johnny Cash guitar-driven-whipped-rhythm country sound on the fast songs, and the June Carter sweet-bitter melancholy on the slow ones. They actually performed Cash’s ‘I Still Miss Someone’ off ‘John Doe and the Sadies, Country club’ album, and Carter family’s ‘Can The Circle be Unbroken’. He said they had been recording a few Carter Family songs, which he found damn ‘grim', but noticing with humor, ‘We are trying to take them back from the campfires and all the Christians and all the stuff like that, so please don’t clap along’ he said just before playing the song, making everyone laughing. He introduced his cover of Dylan’s ‘Pressing On’ (off the ‘I am not There’ soundtrack) as another Jesus song, but ‘not quite as Baptist’, adding that ‘That will be the first time you will hear me say Lord from the stage!’
It is both funny and astonishing how they redid X’s punk classic ‘Painting The Town Blue’, also off Doe’s last album, as a plain country song, as if this country sound has always fueled the song underground, and injected some of the same energy in their rendition of ‘The New World’ during the encore, after talking about the upcoming and 'so disappointing' elections.
At 58, John Doe looks like an adventurous outdoor guy, who pushes frontiers between music genres while having the greatest time on stage with his musicians. If the music he played at the Echo on Thursday night could be described as country, there is still this punk subjacent energy, but as he said ‘there’s a difference between an angry young man and an angry old man’.
Don’t Forget How Much I Love You
Burning house of Love
Walking out the door
I Still Miss Someone (Johnny Cash’s cover)
Meanest Man In The World
Can The Circle be unbroken (Carter Family’s cover)
The Losing kind
Painting The Town Blue
4th of July
Giant Step Backward
There’s A Hole
A Little More Time
The New World