Okay, so I have a lot of catching up to do with the blog, as some of you have pointed out. And I’ll start here.
I’ve been a fan of the LA punk band X since the early 80s. I saw the RHCP open for X in 1984 at San Diego State, and in the short history of rock and roll music I’ll argue that there are few runs of records like X’s first four albums. I mean, “Los Angeles,” “Wild Gift,” “Under the Big Black Sun” and “The New World” are all, in their own right, poetic punk records, fiery yet human, ya know? And taken as a group? They can’t be topped. I mean, most groups come out with a great first record, and then, because they wrote the first record over years and years, their second one sucks big donkey balls. Or their third one. Or, in the case of REM, right around the fourth record you can start to smell the rot. And your shoes stick to the floor. But X? 4 great records. Great, great records. Sure, they fatally attempted to go “metal” on their fifth record, but in an ideal “Jeff Universe,” X would have been as popular as Britney Spears. And they probably would have worn underwear, even!
Anyway, that’s my X rant. But this post isn’t about X. It’s about John Doe, who, yes, was a founding member of X. And, since X sort of broke up in 1987 or so, Doe (not his real name – did you see that coming?) has been embarking on a solo career that’s gone more in a country rock sort of direction, albeit with that distinctive John Doe voice. Oh, that voice. Longing, anger, lust, sorrow…to hear John Doe sing is to hear angels sing. Angels who live in ageless motels alongside dusty old highways, waiting for something better to come along, all the while knowing deep down inside that nothing better is coming along, yet holding on to that last shred of hope that maybe they’re wrong.
That’s John Doe.
Anyway, so John Doe played the Lion’s Lair last Friday night, and I dragged Kath out to see him, because I know she has impeccable taste in music and I was hoping that John Doe’s voice would mesmerize her the way it does me and then I could share my worship of the man with somebody. And, besides, I needed a date. And she had nothing better to do. So we went.
But first, I bought and downloaded his most recent record “A Year In The Wilderness” (okay, so you kids don’t call them “records” anymore – hell, they’re not even “CDs” anymore! They’re “downloads!” But give an old coot some room, all right? I’ll call them “records.” And my beer is “moonshine.”), which just came out a week or two ago. Now I’ve heard all of John Doe’s solo records and they’re all quite good, but this one is something special. Featuring guests artists like Kathleen Edwards, Jill Sobule, Aimee Mann and Dave Alvin, the songs on this record are uniformly fantastic and make me want to take a drive. Seriously, the acoustic “A Little More Time” in a car on the eastern plains of Colorado in the summertime might just be the soundtrack to a very good day. Hell, I’ve already driven through downtown singing the rocker “Lean Out Yr Window” at the top of my lungs several times. Did you hear the dogs howl? While John Doe’s voice is angelic, mine’s more truck-stop bathroom. The point is, if you have an extra $15 laying around or are looking to pick up this summer’s best record, buy “A Year In The Wilderness” here. It’s that good.
And so, having heard the record before the show Friday, I was pretty excited about going. After a pre-show dinner at The Irish Snug, Kath and I went over to The Lion’s Lair, which is a tiny bar. I had no idea it was that small, and it was a great place to see John Doe. The opening band was Dead Rock West, and we saw some of their set, which was quite good, in a country-rock-with-harmonies sort of way. I’m a sucker for harmonies, so I really enjoyed them. And then John Doe came out and his band consisted of members of Dead Rock West, including the female who sang harmonies, and it was mind-blowing. I mean, I realize I compared John Doe’s voice to down on their luck angels earlier, but (if you’ve ever heard X, you know what I mean) combine his voice with a good female voice and the angels are no longer down on their luck; they’ve moved from the motels to the Ritz Carlton. While the combo of John and Exene’s voices was a big part of the X sound, this new John Doe sound, with women who are actually singing on key (no offense, Exene), is awesome. Kath and I stood there with our vodka tonics in our hands and our jaws on the floor as he played all kinds of his solo material and several X songs (“More Fun In The New World,” “White Girl”) with an intensity that would make performers half his age faint from exhaustion. I’ve seen a lot of concerts, and this has to be in the top 5. Tiny club, intense performer, songs that make me want to hit the road, and harmonies? I was in heaven. It was utterly magical.
Remember my ideal “Jeff Universe?” There, John Doe would win Grammys and get played on the radio. A lot. And we’d all be talking about his songs instead of what jail is like for a spoiled heiress.
Exhausted, happy, and drunk, Kath and I went to Pete’s Kitchen afterwards for a late snack. You want to see something funny? Offer Kath a cup of coffee.