John Doe, former front man for iconic punkabilly bands X and the Knitters, ain’t going quietly into anybody’s good night. Nor can we expect him to start raiding the vaults of long-gone vocalists to record cyber duets of old chestnuts with singers no longer around (to defend themselves.) Doe was all there and then some Saturday night at the Lobero Theater, playing with what he described as a thrown-together band that took a little while to find its groove but then stomped and rocked with utter conviction once it did.
Loose, funny, and relaxed, Doe reminded the crowd that he and X had been banned from Santa Barbara after playing the Lobero in 1981, when the band’s fans thrashed the theater. At the time such behavior, he said, was “de rigeur.” While the alleged ban polished X’s already considerable bragging rights, it was fortunately as poorly enforced as more recent environmental safeguards on Greka Energy. In the past couple of years alone, Doe’s been in town at least three times, and each show is completely different. Doe’s stock in trade—aside from an omnivorous ear for American roots music—is a voice that’s both huge and soulful. Not for nothing did syndicated radio talk show host Terri Gross proclaim Doe an honorary country singer. The man can wail, growl and croon with equal dispatch, but Saturday night he mostly let his voice off leash and set it free. Adding textural yin to his ebullient sonic yang was vocalist Cindy Wasserman, whose harmonies were all her own despite striking if superficial similarities in appearance to Exene Cerenka, Doe’s best known musical co-conspirator. Nick Lucas did fine providing guitar accompaniment, but was stellar with the loopy Hammond organ sounds he got from his digitized keyboard. Emotionally moving without being sentimental, Doe made Joni Mitchell’s “I Could Drink a Case of You” completely his own, while reminding everyone what a great song it is despite having originally been played to death. He achieved similar results while grazing from the repertoire of Johnny Cash—on “I Still Miss Someone”—or the Beatles, on “Revolution.” Mostly, however, Doe played the songs he has written in recent years, some of which—20 years from now—will be classics in their own right.