Exene Cervenka And John Doe At Brouwerij West With Feels, Mike Watt And The Secondmen, Saturday November 4th 2017
On Saturday night, Brouwerij West, one of these cool breweries where beer is actually made, was hosting a benefit for Palos Verdes Art Center, a non-profit community art gallery and school. The event had sold out quickly when it was announced that Exene Cervenka & John Doe, of LA’s legendary punk band X, would be playing an intimate and acoustic performance as just ‘Exene and John’. The famous duo frequently performs with their band — they have a bunch of dates coming up before the end of this year — but this was something different.
Before them FEELS, a band I was familiar with, opened the night with a warm reception from the crowd, and there even was an unannounced young band called Alinea at 6 pm, that I unfortunately missed, but that was noticed by Exene as she said they were ‘very good’.
A few years ago, FEELS had a residency at the Echo that I attended a few times, and the three women with their male drummer played their passionate and melodic ballads, that make you feel dreamy before suddenly interrupting your reverie by violent accelerations and punk aggression. The sound of the quartet is thick and layered with two guitars, a bass and plenty of vocal harmonies, as frontgirl Laena Geronimo usually shares the lead vocals with guitarist Shannon Lay, completed by Amy Allen’s elegant bass work. Watching a FEELS concert is equally amazing guitar psych-fuzz and battles of hair flying, whereas the women gracefully occupy the stage. People loved them as FEELS got a very enthusiastic response while they were totally impressed to be sharing the stage with Exene and John, but also Mike Watt and the Secondmen who were next.
I had just seen them at the Growlers Six last weekend, and here was Mike Watt playing once again in his hometown of San Pedro, happy and wild as usual. The famous bass player roared and groaned over insane accelerations fueled by wobbling keys and fired-up drumming. His Secondmen (organist Pete Mazich and drummer Jerry Trebotic) followed him everywhere and beyond, and the result was as chaotic and free-style as you could picture, both jazz and punk-inspired with complete surprises at each key and drum spurt. On bass, Watt looked like a force of nature, sweating his music through his ever grimacing face, with a raw and generous approach and a very long setlist of many songs. And they covered a lot of grounds, starting with the Stooges’ ‘Little Doll’ and Roky Erickson’ ‘Sweet Honey Pie’, and obviously doing a lot of Minutemen’s songs with funny titles such as ‘Bob Dylan wrote Propaganda songs’ or ‘Beacon Sighted Through Fog’, and ‘Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing’…. The Secondmen seem to be an outlet for the Watt’s band Minutemen, but looking at him playing like a man reinventing a mountain of bass licks at each song, nobody could ignore that Mike Watt was the bassist of the Stooges for 10 years.
It was made clear that it wasn’t an X concert, although there were obviously many X covers included in the setlist. At this point, with John Doe arriving with a large cow boy hat and an elegant western suit, while Exene was wearing one of her cute dresses with boots, they definitively looked like an old time-y western couple,… And this is precisely what they sang, covering country classics of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Bobby Braddock or even the Everly Brothers’ with a great rendition of ‘I’m Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail’… and when they did ‘If I Were a Carpenter’, a song written by Tim Hardin and made famous by Johnny Cash, I truly thought I was the closest I will ever be to attend a June Carter and Johnny Cash concert. Their close signature harmonies were shining with this series of acoustic guitar songs, especially during ‘Burning House of Love’ or ‘In This House That I Call Home’,
The ambiance was surely quite tamed compared to all the X concerts I had attended in the past, from punk riot to old bluegrass songs, the duo seemed to be on a roll of ‘depressing’ oldies, but they lit up the room with X’s side project ‘Poor Little Critter on the Road’, a clap-along happy tune that Doe described as ‘huge’ at the time, or the lighthearted ‘Skin Deep Town’.. which made me realize that X actually had funny songs. The rest was mostly a series of X covers and other classics, and tall John Doe, even when he had removed his hat, looking like a movie character, was visibly very happy to make the country side of their songs shine, through his harmonies with Exene. It was a night for country lovers while Exene and John Doe were reclaiming their roots beyond their punk origins.
Exene’s recent collages is currently featured in a new exhibit ‘Lipstick Sunset’ at Palos Verdes Art Center and will be on view through November 26, 2017.
Give Me Flowers While I’m Living (Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs cover)
If I Were a Carpenter (Johnny Cash cover)
Burning House of Love (X cover)
Wreck on Highway
Poor Little Critter on the Road
In This House That I Call Home (X cover)
Skin Deep Town (X cover)
I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts (X cover)
Because I Do (X cover)
Something to Drag About (Bobby Braddock cover)
The New World (X cover)
I’m Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail