The band X recorded one of the best punk albums of all time with their 1980 debut album Los Angeles, but their musical horizons were broader than “traditional” punk rock would allow. Indeed, they also explored roots territory, extending into post-X projects of primary songwriters (and former husband and wife) John Doe and Exene Cervenka.
It was this roots vein that was featured at Doe’s concert Saturday night at the Lobero Theatre, as part of the always enjoyable concert series Sings Like Hell.
It was a return to the scene of the crime for Doe, not just because he has appeared in this series in the past, but more so because the band X was banned from the Lobero after “some genius promoter” booked them into the venerable venue in 1981 and the overzealous crowd tore up three seats and messed up a urinal. Not surprisingly, the audience was more subdued at Saturday’s concert, and the seats all survived the night.
In Sings Like Hell form, Doe was chatty with crowd, which brought a welcome perspective to his songs. For example, in his introduction to “Hwy 5,” he said he lives in Bakersfield and the “love of my life” lives in San Francisco, so he spends a lot of time on that particular highway. When someone from the audience suggested taking Highway 101, he said that always seems like a good idea for the first four hours, but then it’s, “What the *%#* was I thinking?”
When he introduced “The Losing Kind,” he spoke of how great it felt when his publisher called and told him it was to be used in a movie — Black Snake Moan — starring Samuel L. Jackson. Unfortunately, “everybody hated the movie.”
In the “love section” of the show — which followed the brief “hate section” courtesy of “It Just Dawned on Me” about a couple’s crumbling marriage — he included a cover of “Case of You” by Joni Mitchell, who he described as “someone who’s a better love song writer than I.” But Doe certainly brings interesting perspectives to relationships, noting before “Giant Step Backwards” that sometimes it is “best to step back and let the other person go forward, instead of always pushing forward” yourself.
Not surprisingly, there were a few X songs sprinkled in: “Burning House of Love,” “See How We Are” and “The New World,” the latter of which morphed into a cool take on The Beatles’ timeless “Revolution.”
Doe’s band included Cindy Wasserman from Dead Rock West on sublime harmonizing vocals, who also delighted at Cervenka’s show at Velvet Jones about a year ago. Filling out the lineup was fellow Dead Rock West members Bryan Head on drums and (for some songs) Frank Lee Drennen on harmonica, plus Ryan Feves on stand-up bass and multi-instrumentalist Nick Luca who can play a mean organ and, well, it seems almost anything he wants.
The concert ended with “The Golden State,” which Doe introduced by saying, “Someone told me that they played this song at their wedding, and I thought, ‘Did you listen to it?’” If you do listen, it includes edgy lyrics such as “You are the hole in my head / I am the pain in your neck / You are the lump in my throat / I am the aching in your heart.” Ain’t love grand?
The evening started with the alluring music of newcomer Sahara Smith, who recently released her first album (produced by the seemingly ubiquitous T-Bone Burnett) called Myth of the Heart, and whose voice sounds at times like a third Wilson sister or a solo Indigo Girl.
Smith was backed by Jake Owens on guitar, Will Sexton on bass and guitar, and Mike Meadows on drums and percussion, including ankle bells — or were they shells? — which provided a cool, subtle element.
For those who want more X, the original band is playing Dec. 16 at the Majestic Ventura Theater, a show billed as Xmas with X. See you there.
John Doe Setlist
A Little More Time
Burning House of Love
The Losing Kind
See How We Are
I Still Miss Someone (Johnny Cash cover)
It Just Dawned On Me
Grain Of Salt
Case Of You (Joni Mitchell cover)
Giant Step Backwards
There’s a Hole
The New World Revolution (Beatles cover)
Don’t Forget How Much I Love You
The Golden State
— Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.