Don’t let his name fool you. There is little that is average or anonymous about the music of John Doe.
The singer/songwriter (born John Duchac) has had a decorated career as the leader of the Los Angeles punk band X, as a solo artist and as a member of various other bands, including the Knitters and the Flesh Eaters.
Tuesday night, Doe performed before a crowd of about 200 at Knuckleheads, delivering a diverse set of songs, including covers of X, Johnny Cash, the Rolling Stones and Joni Mitchell and several songs off his latest album, the Southwest-inspired “The Westerner.”
Doe was backed by a three-piece band that included Jesse Dayton, who opened the show; drummer DJ Bonebrake (his bandmate in X) and vocalist Cindy Wasserman. For about 100 minutes, they mustered a steady and hearty mix of roots rock, blues, folk and taproot rock ’n’ roll.
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They opened with “The Losing Kind,” a sultry blues number from his 2005 recording “Forever Hasn’t Happened Yet,” then “Get On Board,” a train song with a lyrical theme similar to “People Get Ready” and “This Train”: “There’s all kinds of people on this train / But there’s no VIP or platinum reserved / ’Cause everybody’s on this train.”
He followed that with “Hwy 5,” another “Losing Kind” cut, then a dandy cover of Dave Alvin’s “Fourth of July.” Throughout, Wasserman coated Doe’s craggy vocals with buttery harmonies, most notably during “Burning House of Love” and “The New World,” two X standards.
Dayton took over lead vocals on the cover of Cash’s “Doing My Time.” Doe followed that with a rollicking version of “I Still Miss Someone.” Then came a cover of Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” a love song that Doe confessed he wished he’d written. A few songs later, they turned the Stones’ classic “The Last Time” into a slow, smoldering blues song. Wasserman’s vocals on that were stellar.
Doe is personable and opinionated, and his banter was colorful and witty. He corrected himself immediately after saying he was in Kansas, which drew a reaction from the crowd.
“Easy, Kansas City,” he said. “Don’t get the torches out.”
Things got political a few times, like during “A Little Help,” a “Westerner” song about unions and farm workers, before “Drink of Water,” a song about the drought in California, and during their closer, a rock-soul rendition of “The Have Nots,” a song about dive bars and working-class drudgery: “Dawn comes soon enough for the working class / It keeps gettin’ sooner or later.”
It was an appropriate end to a night that tapped into the grass-roots rewards of music and the universal messages it can convey.
The Losing Kind; Get On Board; Hwy 5; Fourth of July; A Little Help; Don’t Forget How Much I Love You; Sunlight; Burning House of Love; My Darling, Blue Skies; Doing My Time; I Still Miss Someone; Go Baby Go; A Case of You; Drink of Water; Never Enough; The Last Time; The New World; Alone in Arizona; The Have Nots