Where X typically packed the Coach House on its many forays there, X guiding-light John Doe drew a far-from-capacity crowd Wednesday, when he presented the debuts of new songs and a new band. It’s a shame, for Doe’s 25-song set, while moving in a still-rootsier direction than his old band was headed, was brimming with the sense of musical adventure and honesty that marked X’s finest moments.
Chief among the show’s surprises was that Doe has become a full-fledged troubadour, more than able to carry a show on his own. Where once his attempts at Phil Ochs-styled balladry or grainy country standards required a certain amount of bemused indulgence from his listeners, Doe has grown remarkably since X’s indefinite split commenced last year.
In place of the earnest-yet-amateurish vocals that marked his roots efforts with X and the offshoot acoustic Knitters, Doe’s singing Wednesday was a near-revelation. Sacrificing none of its directness, his voice displayed an impressive passion, range and power--even effectively belting out an Elvis tribute on Dave Bartholomew’s “One Night of Sin,” the seamy archetype for the King’s “One Night With You.”
With that voice and several of the new songs he introduced, Doe could well become the equal of his hero Ochs, though a rousing solo version of the late folk singer’s “The Chords of Fame"--a cautionary tale of a musician who abandoned his honesty--set a high standard to live up to. Doe was equally effective performing solo and backed by a nimble roots-hopping trio of Blasters’ drummer Bill Bateman, K.D. Lang guitarist Greg Leisz and bassist Tony Marsico, rescued from the Cruzados’ new heavy-metal incarnation. Even X standards such as “See How We Are” and “Hot House” were performed with an incendiary zeal that made the prospect of an X-less future seem less ruinous.
Doe freely blended folk, country and rock on his new hard-driving “Prisoner,” the 12-string propelled “Twisted Rendezvous,” “Tape Number 52,” an update on the jukebox-weeper sub-genre, and a rendingly forlorn ballad, “It’s Only Love, It’ll Go Away.”
Though Doe claimed in a recent interview to be disaffected with Los Angeles and is soon moving to the high desert, Doe’s best new songs were those that dealt with the town and its ways. In one he pined, “Step out on your balcony, and see your city in bloom. Listen to the sound of guns going off, and try to sleep by the light of the moon.”
His most caustic lines were reserved for those who use BMWs as the measure of achievement success in “Liar’s Market”: “It’s a liar’s market and I’m trying to sell the truth. If I could be a liar, I could get as far as you.”