For those who complain about St. Louis, consider this: Because of our city's small stature, we're able to see bands in tiny venues, while the rest of the world has to check 'em out in cavernous places. Recent cases in point: The National, !!!, the Hold Steady, etc.
The latest intimate gig to hit town was a doozy: X's John Doe as part of the Wood House Concerts series. Run by Rick and Nancy Wood (of Twangfest reknown) from their funkily (but tastefully) decorated house, this occasional series brings in national acts -- who then proceed to play in the corner of the couple's kitchen for 75 or so lucky people. Really. You might not have heard about this in the pages of the RFT, because I tend to stick to covering things people can attend -- and recent shows (including and especially this one) sell out even before they're barely announced.
Either way, the Woods were lucky enough to snag Doe and his crack backing band (Dead Rock West -- an LA alt-country group featuring talented musicians who have played with Grant Lee Buffalo, Toni Childs, Abandoned Pools, Lucinda Williams, Social Distortion and others.)
Now, X is my favorite punk band, mainly because it absorbed and reinterpreted music history instead of turning its back on innovators, unlike many sneering snot-nosed rockers did back in the day. (I also made a total ass out of myself when I interviewed Doe years ago when I was a novice journalist, although I learned to check whether a band is broken up before you ask what it feels like to tour together again. Quelle embarrasment.)
So seeing the actor/writer/musician in such a small setting was a thrill. In fact, it felt quite a bit like VH1 Storytellers; Doe himself said the small setting compelled him to talk about songs quite a bit. (And did he: One was introduced as an "autobiographical murder ballad," another about some neighbors of his who couldn't control their kids -- the kicker was the mom is a flight controller.) But these stories -- along with his hysterical asides -- further made the show a treat.
Stage patter hilarity:
Doe: [looking around and laughing slightly] "Twenty years ago, I would have come here and gone upstairs and fucked something up. Glad that's not happening." Audience member: "There's still time!"
Doe: "Sorry I missed some of the opening set by Dead Rock West. I was upstairs shooting heroi...I mean... [laughter] I'm still drinking liquor. [a bit later] "So, Exene [Cervenka], she's a Missouri resident now. She lives outside of Jefferson City. And she says that drugs are for kids, prescriptions are for adults. [pause] I believe everything Exene tells me."
This humor would be for naught if Doe's music had faded, or if his new stuff didn't compare with older material. But he was in fine form, switching from acoustic guitar back to electric where needed. Doe's voice hasn't aged a lick -- if anything, his emotionally expressive voice slips even more comfortably into his story-songs as it ages, hints of grizzled age and experience adding weathered wrinkles to his delivery. Songs from his crackling new Yep Roc solo album, A Year in the Wilderness sprang to life; "Golden State," a song he introduced as "a kick in the chest" due to loving someone (which the Pitch links here) especially was a glorious piece of Replacementsy ragged-pop. While that song features Kathleen Edwards on its studio version, on this night Dead Rock West's Cindy Wasserman was the perfect foil for Doe on that song and every other song, her vocals not quite as shrill and piercing as Cervenka's, but no less a sucker-punch; consider her impact the subtle kind.
X's "White Girl" and the band's much-loved cover of Dave Alvin's "4th of July" -- a song prefaced with the caveat that its shelf-life isn't too far for this world, much like wearing white shoes after Labor Day - were expected crowd-pleasers. A first-set ending cover of the Beatles' "Revolution" was also appropriate, but the smoking, barnstorming version of the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" that finished the night off was mind-blowing.
Dead Rock West opened with a short set of hard-edged, catchy alt-country that felt influenced by open stretches of dusty highway and arid deserts, rather than the sort of twang endemic to Missouri, the farmland- and corn-fed type. The former's outlaw desolation informed its tunes amazingly well, and the brief set was impressive, wholly entertaining and perfect for the swampy loneliness of the sweltering, humid night. Plus the band was bold: It even had the guts to cover X's "Burning House of Love" last.