MORE FUN IN THE NEW WORLD: John Doe, World Cafe Live, About An Hour Ago
BY JONATHAN VALANIA Meet John Doe, fiftysomething atypicial American male. Claim to fame: Leader of Los Angeles punk band X, which combined indelible noir-ish poetics with buzzsaw punk and twangy Americana. Actually, you have met John Doe before. Every post-X solo album is a re-introduction to the man with the prototypical American alias, and every time, America’s reaction is the same: commercial indifference underscored by the righteous indignation of critics that a talent like Doe should have to come begging for his due time and time again.
Doe’s performance Wednesday night at World Cafe Live was par for this course: A seated show with a respectable turnout, but just a fraction of the crowd X drew back in the day or, for that matter, even during their intermittent reunion tours. Such is the story of a man whose career has been incontrovertible proof of the essential unfairness of the music business — that the spoils don’t always go to the best and brightest. All the more the pity that A Year In The Wilderness, Doe’s new solo album, is probably his strongest to date.
Dead Rock West, a youngish collective which served double-duty as opening act and backing band, closed out their set with a stellar reading of “Burning House Of Love,” X’s doomed make-or-break commercial bid for major label rock stardom. X’s inability to crack the big time would be the death of the band, leaving it to bands like Dead Rock West to pick up the torch. Though inextricably connected to the punk scene, X’s early records were produced by Doors organist Ray Manzarek, who told anybody who would listen that X were the obvious heirs to the Doors. So it should come as no surprise that the combination of Doe and Dead Rock should sound like LA Woman: a bracing blend of white-hot sunshine and long dark shadows, where the future is uncertain and the end is always near.
Dressed in a natty dark suit, his trademark floppy bangs fringing his deep-brown eyes, Doe was in peak form, and his rich baritone croon remains intact. If anything, the ensuing years have only made him a better singer, and he seems to have found the perfect harmonic foil in the form of Dead Rock’s Cindy Wasserman, who cuts a faintly Exene-esque figure. Doe’s set was bracing blend of the new (“Hotel Ghost,” “Big Moon”) and the old (deathless readings of “The New World” and “Fourth Of July”) and even an eyebrow-raising cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” Before launching into a show-stopping run through X’s “White Girl,” Doe played a few bars of the curiously similar chord pattern to Nirvana’s “Come As You Are.” It was a sly, subtle gesture, perhaps lost on much of the crowd, but the intent was clear: My name is John Doe, and I been there, done that.
[Photo by JONATHAN VALANIA]