JOHN DOE IS NOW PAINTING THE TOWN A BRIGHTER BLUE
By Don Allred
Although the marriage of John Doe and Exene Cervenka ended in 1984, they kept jump-
starting new tracks with their headstrong, headlong California punk group X until 1993. Today, fourteen years after the original line-up of X got back together, singer/songwriter Doe's combustible combo comprise one reliable reunion road band. This fall, having recently toured with the Knitters, a hardy Americana outfit which began as an X side project, and Jill Sobule, with whom he recorded the sly underdog anthems of 2011's A Day At The Pass, Doe joined X in a round of Latin American shows, opening for Pearl Jam. X will hit the Sunbelt circuit in December, after Doe's own Midwestern shows.
(The last time he played Columbus Cowtown, Doe and the Sadies brought soulful, frequently feedback-roasted honky tonk neon chestnuts, from their '09 Country Club. The show still turns up on YouTube.)
Doe's solo albums have been reinvigorated by X's second life as a concerts-only experience, and, he said, " the freedom from having to write for them." Also, lessons learned from the dissolution of his nearly twenty-five year second marriage helped provide the alchemy of songs such as "Golden State," slamming into its chorus: "We are luck/We are fate/We are the feeling you get in the Golden State." The sound of freedom also sweeps philosophy into a new, challenging reality: "It's the feeling I get/When you walk away."
"Pieces of sadness exist in everything, but it doesn't have to be the only thing," Doe said recently. His new Keeper gives us love songs with teeth, such as "Little Tiger," which might be about one of his three daughters, prowling through private sorrow. Still, nothing here is too narrowly defined. "Have you noticed all the time travelers in cities recently?" he asked at least one recent audience, introducing "Giant Step Backwards." It's about a guy who realizes his "factory girl" has suddenly disappeared from where he depended on her to remain, back in their shared history. He's rallying for a new quest, possibly in time, but also, Doe suggested, it has to do with "men getting too far ahead in relationships, needing to let the other person step forward."
The reflections of Keeper are polished just enough, sometimes to a slightly surreal glow. "Moonbeam" is a recently unearthed, vibrantly atmospheric R&B ballad, which gets crowded when the background singers jump into Danny White's vintage original, but Doe keeps the wonder discreet. We also get a compatibly restive remake of an X classic, in which a battered wife "flips a finger" in farewell to a bartender who can only offer pity. Then she sways towards the Greyhound station, declaring, "Roses are red/Violence is too/Everybody knows/I'm painting the town blue." Listen to this song, and you'll know it too.
John Doe and His Rockin' Band, with supporting act Robert Ellis, will perform at the Rumba Cafe on Monday, November 28. Doors open 7 p.m. Ellis plays at 9 p.m., Doe at 10 p.m. 18+ show. $12. Under-21 pays $ 2 surcharge at door. For more information, please see columbusrumbacafe.com