POP REVIEW : The Knitters Spin Themselves Quite a Reunion at Coach House

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Yes, not all musical reunions need be synonymous with self-parody.

There are even those rare few regroupings worthy of the term revival , such as the regeneration of the Knitters at the Coach House Saturday night.

The Knitters on display here rekindled the spark, frivolity and genuineness--and then some--of the quintet that developed from a side project for members of L.A. punk/rockabilly bands into a cult favorite during the mid-1980s.

Except for a benefit performance held last summer, this weekend’s shows (also including an appearance Friday at Bogart’s in Long Beach) were the countrified supergroup’s first in almost five years.

Tugging in the reigns on a hectic period consumed by solo projects, movies and families, X members Exene Cervenka, John Doe and drummer D.J. Bonebrake, Blasters’ guitarist Dave Alvin and D.I. bassist Jonny Ray Bartel finally got the chance again to kick up their boots--and a delightful little racket.


Cervenka these days is a little heavier, Doe sports a mustache and flecks of gray around the temples, and Alvin’s hairline is ebbing much like brother Phil’s.

But, despite outward signs of aging, this was no slouching-toward-Vegas act like those popularized in recent years by all too many once-significant pop music artists who didn’t know when to quit.

The Knitters of the ‘90s--at least as a live band--appear still to be in their prime. The only considerable difference between Saturday’s performance and the group’s last shows in 1987 is that the band now has barrels of additional songs from which to draw.

If there was a drawback to the 90-minute set before a near-capacity crowd, it was the band’s decision to ignore all of Doe’s and Cervenka’s recent solo material and all but one of Alvin’s newest songs (“Dry River”). To name two numbers, Cervenka’s “White Trash Wife” and Doe’s “By the Light” would have fit nicely into the Knitters’ country/folk territory.

That nit-pick aside, the Knitters strung together 22 captivating numbers without a lull, offering a nice sampling of ballads along with their usual stomping fare.

The show opened with only Doe and Alvin, performing Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings,” from the Knitters’ sole album, 1985’s “Poor Little Critter on the Road.” Cervenka, Bartel and Bonebrake joined the pair three songs later and proceeded to play all of the other songs from that LP except “Cryin’ but My Tears Are Far Away.”


They also threw in a latter-day X/Knitters song, “Skin-Deep Town,” and a collection of country standards, folk traditionals and some of the group’s favorite obscurities, including “Something to Brag About,” written by Jeannie Seely and Jack Greene.

A few Knitters’ staples were reworked into appealing new versions, most notably a swing-influenced take of “Love Shack.”

Doe and Cervenka displayed that ever-gorgeous vocal synergy, along with infectious playfulness in their banter between and during songs. Among other topics of the evening, the pair discussed appropriate ingredients for fruit salad, and Doe disclosed that he was “under the influence of antihistamine.”

Alvin, who has always played guitar with brilliance and ease, perhaps never played better than he did on Saturday. He remains among the few rock guitarists who can pull off a solo that is titillating rather than tedious, a skill he flaunted throughout this Knitters’ show.

The backbeat and heart of the Knitters’ sound was steadily supplied by Bonebrake on snare and Bartel on stand-up bass.

A key reason why this Knitters’ reunion succeeded is their inherent aversion to ever taking themselves completely seriously. The Knitters have always been, well, loose-knit.


Originally, the band was a vehicle for its members to blow off some steam from the rigors of recording and performing with hard-working rock bands. And even today, as Doe told a Times reporter last week, “the Knitters mean lack of pressure, unbridled fun and country music.”

With X scheduled to regroup to record an album and perhaps tour next year, Doe, Cervenka and Bonebrake would be well-advised to pack some of that Knitters’ spirit along for the trip.

Saturday’s performance opened on a quite different note, with a distinctly ‘70s rock-influenced set by the Haze, a young San Clemente quartet.

The Haze owes its sound largely to Led Zeppelin and the Who, for better and worse.

On the upside of that equation, the band’s drummer obviously idolizes Keith Moon, but, remarkably, is a devotee whose talents are up to the task. And the band, on the whole, was impressively tight.

At its worst, however, the Haze’s ‘70s trappings spelled monotonous guitar solos, banal lyrics and inane stage antics.