For someone who's adopted the most anonymous name possible, John Doe comes up with songs that are often intensely personal . They can also be dark and incisive, poignant and sad, or uplifting and funny. This emotional range has long been a touchstone of the music he's created with X, although it's frequently submerged in that band's full-throttle attack.
His storytelling knack, eye for detail and fundamental influences have been more apparent in his work with X's country-folk offshoot the Knitters, and were even more accessible in his solo show Thursday at the Anticlub.
Doe's performance was a splendid grab-bag: Several new X compositions, a few Knitters tunes, and a handful of songs representing some of his favorite writers, like Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and Dave Alvin.
Delivered in his forceful, sweet croon and accompanied by his acoustic guitar, it all sounded on-target and inspired. The new material suggests yet another superior X album in the making, particularly "See How We Are," which addressed violated trust and hypocrisy on both a personal and political level.
Dressed in jeans and T-shirt, Doe approached the performance like an informal gathering among close friends. From his low-key greeting ("Hello, I'm John Doe") to his willingness to let the crowd dictate the pace ("slow or fast?"), he came across as warm, engaging and completely unpretentious. Indeed, his farewell--"Good night and happy first day of spring"--might have sounded silly or insincere from someone else. From Doe it was neither. He'll be among the participants in tonight's benefit for Club 88 at the West L.A. club.