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John Doe @ Friday Nights at the Getty: 1/18/08
Last Friday I trundled up in the tram at The Getty Center to see a 'sold out', intimate performance. For the mere cost of parking and a little bumper-to-bumper on the 405, I and my brother from another mother, MX, got to sit in a comfy auditorium and listen to the laconic stylings of ex-punk (no pun intended) troubadour, John Doe. Now, ain't yah jealous?
Of course, I've always had a crush on Mr. Doe. What punker chick hasn't? His rootsy atonal, super-cool dudeness stood out in the early days of the LA scene and I'm happy to report it still does in a more tattered salt (& pepper) of the earth fashion. I must admit though, I haven't been very interested in his countrified solo stuff, beyond The Knitters--the band that single handedly got me to actually listen to and appreciate Roots/Americana music. What can I say? I like my music loud, fast and raucous. Nevertheless, after having caught The Knitters show at The Getty last season, I was curious to hear what all the critics and the staff of KPFK have been raving about.
The museum peeps were giddy about having Doe return to celebrate their 10th anniversary of such performances (brought to you by the good people at Community Arts Resources). We were surrounded by our peers, the 40 something set (Eek!), whose love of Doe was evident. One couldn't help but feel all warm, cozy and privileged as musicians, Dave Carpenter (bass), Greg Leisz (pedal steel), Jamie Muhoberac (keyboard), Cindy Wasserman (additional vocals) and John (guitar in hand) took to the stage and cranked out 18 songs in an hour and a little extra long set.
Doe solo is not the X or even The Knitters of yesteryear. I was gonna say: this is not your parents John Doe, but in a way it is. The style is easy to listen to: mellow, introspective, roots and blues and folk inspired ballads and that meandering poetry set to music that singer/songwriters employ. Kind of slow, quiet and yes, even sleepy at times.
The set began with several spare, soulful numbers, romantic enough for Valentine's night incidental music with your honey pie. I was surprised by the number of relationship songs throughout and it seemed to me that the happy hopeful ones out-numbered the angst ridden love/hate songs that I prefer. Not to say they weren't good, A Little More Time and Golden State from his latest release, A Year in the Wilderness are well crafted and catchy. It's just that I was more comfortable listening to Meanest Man in the World and Unforgiven. It took a while before the tempo picked up and both MX and I found ourselves wishing that things had started with a bang and then gotten mellow, instead of the reverse, but that's little enough to complain about considering you're sitting in the second row and it didn't cost a cent!
Doe was a bit worried about the museum's time constraints: in at 7ish and out by 8:30ish, no encores. So, at first he dispensed with intros and patter. Thankfully, he soon relaxed and in his immitigable quirky fashion expressed his wonderment at getting airplay on 103.1, the irony of being on soundtracks for movies that sounded like a good idea (Black Snake Moan), and the freedom to be mellow instead of having to rock out and entertain at the kind of 'shitty' bars he's used to. The sound was a bit tinny to our ears (auditoriums can be like that), but the players succeeded in getting the most out of the terse and deceptively simple songs. Big props go to Muhoberac and his rollicking organ and to Wasserman, whose melodic voice contained just enough twang and wail to compliment Doe's in the style that we're all accustomed to hearing.
What always stands out to me is the sadly poignant or darkly grim stories Doe tells us, like in the song Twin Brother, written from the point of view of a kid in trouble with his abusive mom. My favorites of the evening were the for-all-intensive-purposes-X-songs, Hwy 5 co-written by Exene, and Doe's homage to his punker 'daze', Ready (even if "Johnny's dead and I know why / He stuck a needle in his eye," are kind of silly lyrics.) I also enjoyed his triumphant rendition of Joni Mitchell's A Case of You, which proves that even though I'm a musical ruffian at heart, I can fake my way around the classics. It also makes me wonder if Doe has inappropriate desires for Leonard Cohen. . . Anyhoot, too soon it ended and we were back on the tram bound for the 405. All in all, it was quite enjoyable and so, I recommend catching Doe's mellow goodness live or at least checking out his latest cd.
I've been debating about posting about Friday Nights at the Getty performances for a while now. Mainly because I don't want you all clogging up the reservation lines and stealing my tickets! But it's something really worth taking advantage of if you're an Angelino on a budget. The best thing about these events is that they are FREE, but besides that, the shows are intimate and there are really no bad seats. You can bring your mom and kids, and still get your drink in the lobby. Some of the not so excellent things are the keep-to-your-seats formality that comes with auditorium seating. The strict time limit and no-photos-during-performances policy (even for me) also suck, but it's understandable considering the museum setting.
I highly recommend "Friday Nights" and "Friday off the 405" at the Getty for dates. Who says a cheap date has to look cheap? Think how you can impress your paramour by getting up there early and getting down with all that culture. Do the art, grab dinner at the cafe and casually stroll into a semi-secret show that ends early enough to still be able to get trashed at your fave club/bar afterwards--sweet! Click here to see who's playing in February and how you can get your hands on free tickets.
Photo of John Doe by ac94 via Flickr