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John Doe At The LA Times Festival Of Books, Sunday April 10th 2016


John Doe


May be because I have seen him many times over the years, may be because his legendary band X is forever part of the Los Angeles music scene, I have always felt close to John Doe, he is like an old friend I have never spoken to, an old friend who understand a lot of everything. I will always remember X’s riotous show at the Sunset Junction Fair in 2004, there was a mad-crazy fence-bending pole-jumping crowd that day, and the crowd scared the hell out of me and my guests as we got very close to the stage but had to back up because of the sudden unleashed violence! This is funny because I overheard someone talking about this specific show after John Doe’s set at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. It was 12 years ago, and no mayhem like this happened on Sunday, punk rockers are certainly older, and the family-friendly festival was probably not the place to mosh and jump at 3 pm in the afternoon. However, even though John Doe’s repertoire, some old and brand new songs, is now more folk-country-oriented, it is still played with the same energy and signature harmonies.

X has always been this unique blend of punk and country anyway, and the western shirts worn by John and his guitarist still contrast with the punkish shoes of the female singer, Cindy Wasserman, from the band Dead Rock West, who was providing the female harmonies. The performance was announced as a John Doe concert and not a X gig, so of course Exene was not there, but this didn’t prevent John to rework a few classics like ‘Burning House of Love’ and ‘The New World’ with a sort of country twang. He even dedicated two songs to Merle Haggard, ‘The Have Nots’ and Haggard’s own, ‘Working Man’s Blues’ but their whipped country tempo brought everything but sadness.

There were a few quieter songs, some bluesier ones, darker and slower, and a snippet of the Beatles’ ‘Revolution’ at the end of ‘The New World’ which was introduced with the straightforward declaration: ‘All politicians are assholes’. There was a subjacent punk energy and anger even in the calmer songs and Cindy’s vocals worked really well with John’s still powerful howls, as she was getting very close to Exene’s famous harmonies,

This man has four decades of rock history under his belt, a career with two bands (X and the Knitters) and a solo career but he is also a poet, an actor, and a writer (he has an upcoming memoir ‘Under the Big Black Sun’). Nevertheless, he still looks like a one of these die-hard X fans guys present in the public, he doesn’t seem to dwell on the past, he could have been an adventurer, a cowboy who rides horses in large open spaces, and ‘Westerner’ is also the title of his new album, recorded in Tucson with Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb and out on April 29 on Cool Rock Records. He played a few songs which will be featured on this new work, ‘My Darling Blue Skies’, ‘Get on Board’, a country-bluesy song borrowing to the American west mythology about trains and a sort of metaphor about taking the train of life leading to heavenly redemption, ‘Go Baby Go’ and ‘A Little Help’, two songs for which he respectively hired Debbie Harry and Cat Power on the record. But his long-time sidekick and companion was sort of present as they played ‘Alone in Arizona’, ‘a song written by my friend Exene’, as John explained, a song he liked so much he recorded it for his new album.

If this new work is in complete continuity with what he has always done, I read that the new album is haunted by freewheeling open spaces, whereas the Doors and the Native American culture have a strong presence; the album is even dedicated to his late friend Michael Blake, who wrote ‘Dancing with Wolves’).

X is still a little bit underground, I still know people who have no idea who they are, but those who know them have this strong gut reaction to their work and loyally continue to follow them decades after decades. 2017 will mark X’s 40th anniversary, so expect to hear a lot about John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom and D. J. Bonebrake very soon.

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Don’t Forget How Much I Love You
My Darling Blue Skies
The Have Nots
Working Man’s Blues
May be Last Time
Handsome Devil
A Little Help
The Losing Kind
Burning House of Love
Go Baby Go
Alone in Arizona
Get on Board
The New World
The Golden State

Many more pictures here.

1 Comment

  1. Dick Destiny on April 12, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    Great pix as usual. That said I’ve always had a strong aversion for those who pass themselves off as sonic Americana vitamins for the demographic of sincere upper middle class people of culture who think a lot. Like the LA Times Festival of Books, or the yearly pompous book flog.

    “All politicians suck.” How fiery!

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