in performance: john doe

John Doe. Photo by Autumn DeWilde.

When you have spent the last four decades anchoring what has been one of the most celebrated punk rock bands to emerge from the West Coast, a degree of stereotyping is perhaps unavoidable. But what John Doe managed to do last night during an intimate solo acoustic concert at the Green Lantern was affirm what his career outside of the punk brigade X taught us long ago – that under the rock ‘n’ roll exterior is an artist with a far reaching affinity for folk, country and roots music capped by a singing voice reflecting ageless clarity and strength.

Those wanting X tunes got a few treats – namely, “The Have Nots,” “The New World” and an encore of “Poor Girl.” All might have been sonically tempered by the unplugged setting, but none lost their urgency, especially the way blue collar angst still percolates within “The Have Nots” (“Dawn comes soon enough for the working class”).

But the more aggressive moments of the set actually came from newer tunes off of Doe’s 2016 Arizona folk-rock sojourn “Westerner.” “Get on Board” chugged along with a lean, rootsy assuredness mirrored by lyrics emphasizing a shared destination for all passengers (“There’s no VIP or platinum reserved, ‘cause everybody’s on board this train”). For sheer stamina, though, the “Westerner” tune “My Darling, Blue Skies” proved the most arresting rocker of the evening by breaking free of any acoustic stigma to trigger a Bo Diddley-worthy drive.

The rest of the program was fascinating mix of Doe originals (a neatly scaled back “A Little Help”), covers (a powerfully emotive take on the Replacements gem “Here Comes a Regular” that led into a nicely roughed up reading of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”) and folk-directed staples cut by the X-spinoff troupe The Knitters (a suitably disquieting version of the murder ballad “Little Margaret” and the show closing encore of the Dave Alvin co-write “The Call of the Wreckin’ Ball”).

But the most moving moment of the performance came when Doe addressed his participation in the Harry Dean Stanton Fest, the event that brought him to Lexington in the first place. In tribute, he performed the lovely “Cancion Mixteca,” a century old Mexican folk song Stanton sang in the career-defining, Wim Wenders-directed film “Paris, Texas.” The song was topical not just for its connection to the Kentucky-born film actor, but for its sense of cultural displacement. In Doe’s hands, though, it was simply a loving tribute from a punk rocker who could sing soft without going soft.

John Doe will participate in a Q&A session following a free screening of “Slam Dance” as part of the Harry Dean Stanton Fest at 3 p.m. today (Sept. 30) at the Farish Theater of the Lexington Public Library, 140 E Main.

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