LIVE: John Doe @ Club Helsinki, 2/23/17

Review by Steven Stock

In the ’80s, John Doe was singer, songwriter and bassist for X, one of the leading exponents of the West Coast punk scene – and an absolutely riveting live band. There was something magical about the way Doe’s powerful voice held its own against Exene Cervenka’s passionate caterwauling, creating not harmony but rather an appealing strife, underpinned by Billy Zoom’s neo-rockabilly guitar licks and D.J. Bonebrake’s ferocious drumming.

X’s last studio album was released in 1993, and although the band still tours sporadically, Doe has largely concentrated on his solo career. Careers, really: aside from a succession of rootsy Americana-inflected solo albums and collaborations with the Sadies, Cervenka and Jill Sobule, Doe has acted in over 60 movies and television shows. Not content to rest on his laurels, last year Doe also compiled his first book, “Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk,” a left-coast rejoinder to Legs McNeil’s wonderful oral history “Please Kill Me.”

Doe’s recent solo performance at Club Helsinki in Hudson showcased half-a-dozen songs from his newest album, The Westerner, along with four covers, four X songs and select highlights from throughout his solo career.

He opened with a brace of songs on acoustic guitar, relying mostly on strummed chords. Surveying the genteel supper-club, he confided, “This is a strange set-up. I don’t mind admitting I’m a little bit nervous. Mentally, I’m feeling it. The eating part is tough too. What is that? Is it good?” When the audience applauded a rare solo during a cover of Merle Haggard’s “I Always Get Lucky with You,” Doe flashed a grin and said, “You’re very kind.”

Seeming to gain confidence as the show progressed, Doe belted out a convincing version of Bob Dylan’s “Pressing On,” as first heard on the soundtrack for “I’m Not There.” He then switched to electric guitar for a mid-set, five-song interlude that began with “a wonderful love song, one of my favorites” – Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.”

“I’m really kind of heartbroken about what’s going on in North Dakota – that Standing Rock thing. It’s fucked-up. I guess there are more fights to be fought, so I’ll send this out to clean water,” proclaimed Doe before diving into “Drink of Water.”

Doe reverted to acoustic guitar for the final ten songs. It was interesting to hear how well the X songs worked in this new unplugged incarnation, especially “Burning House of Love” and “The New World.” Another nod to Haggard, “Silver Wings” was first recorded by Doe with the Knitters back in 1985, way before country was at all cool! A lovely version of X’s “See How We Are” was a fitting finale to a low-key but enjoyable evening at Club Helsinki.

Don’t Forget How Much I Love You
Alone in Arizona
Hot House
Get on Board
I Always Get Lucky With You
Pressing On
Sweet Reward
A Case of You
Lucky Penny
Drink of Water
There’s a Hole
Big Moon
Twin Brother
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Burning House of Love
My Darling, Blue Skies
The New World
The Golden State
The Meanest Man in the World
Silver Wings
See How We Are

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