John Doe makes it look so easy.
A singer, songwriter, poet and actor, Doe, 60, has been performing since the late 1970s, most notably with the band X, which he founded in Los Angeles nearly 40 years ago. But Doe is also an established solo artist and a member of a few side projects, including the Knitters.
Monday night at Knuckleheads, he treated about 150 fans to a 90-minute show that tapped into all facets of his deep and varied legacy, and he delivered it all with charm, humor and ease.
“Rockabilly and country is where punks go to die,” he wisecracked at one point, and he gave his crowd plenty of both and more: mix of folk and country ballads, blues, rock and rockabilly anthems, covers and a few X favorites.
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Backed by opener Jesse Dayton and his band (drum, bass) and vocalist Cindy Wasserman (of Dead Rock West), Doe opened with “This Far,” a track included on his latest release, a best-of compilation. He followed that with two from his “Keeper” album: “Walking Out the Door,” a rockabilly tune, and “Little Tiger,” a folk ballad for anyone with children or pets, he said: “To some people, those are interchangeable.”
His stellar version of Bob Dylan’s “Pressing On” was the first of several covers. He followed that with another: “I Still Miss Someone,” from “Country Club,” a collection of covers he recorded with the Sadies.
Doe’s voice has matured gracefully. It can deliver a ballad plaintively, like the whimsical “Twin Brothers,” and a rock anthem forcefully, like “Burning House of Love,” the first of several X tunes. All night, Wasserman sweetened his vocals with lovely harmonies or background vocals.
Two more covers were among the several highlights: Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”; and the gothic gospel-blues version of “The Last Time,” starring Wasserman. He gave the crowd two late shots of X — “The Have Nots” and then “The New World” — and both packed plenty of warmth and verve. Doe may make it all look fun and easy, but he’s not one to go through the motions.
This Far; Walking Out the Door; Little Tiger; Pressing On; I Still Miss Someone; Twin Brother; Burning House of Love; A Case of You; Lucky Penny; Heartless; Never Enough; Telephone By the Bed; The Losing Kind; This May Be the Last Time; The Have Nots. Encore: The Golden State; Big Moon; Handsome Devil; The New World.