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John Doe's Got a Good Thing Going : Pop music review: Fueled by a dynamic band and undeterred by a sparse crowd, the renegade rocker soars on fresh material.

October 31, 1995|JON MATSUMOTO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — "I feel I should come out and shake all of your hands since there are so few of you here," John Doe said Sunday during his sparsely attended concert at the Galaxy Concert Theatre.

With only a handful of patrons occupying the ample open floor space in front of the stage, Doe must have felt as if he was performing at a sound check. Most of those in the club chose to view the show from the side and back tables rather than experience the proceedings up close and personal. When he first hit the stage, the sardonic Doe couldn't resist asking those far and away whether they had enjoyed their prime rib and lobster dinners.

But if the singer-guitarist was perturbed by the low turnout and the theater's more formal ambience, it wasn't reflected in his new band's scorching, 70-minute-plus performance. Dubbed the John Doe Thing, the taut and dynamic quartet delivered a sonic blast that shook the Galaxy to its foundation.

At 42, this punk-icon-turned-roots-rock-renegade exhibited the passion and sense of currency of a rejuvenated veteran who is neither ready to burn out nor fade away. Most rock performers at this stage of their careers would be dusting off a platter full of their golden oldies.

But Doe was so confident of the material from his new "Kissingsohard" album that he didn't feel compelled to cover any of his signature songs from X, the seminal late-'70s, early-'80s punk band that he continues to help pilot.

One song lifted from the X canon was "Cyrano de Berger's Back," from the Los Angeles band's 1987 "See How We Are" album. Doe even eschewed playing the most recognizable material from his other solo disc, 1990's "Meet John Doe.'

Relying mostly on new songs in concert can be a gamble for a performer with a rich recording history. Just one night earlier David Bowie had failed in a similar attempt at staying contemporary in a co-headline performance with Nine Inch Nails at the Forum in Inglewood.

The often hard-rocking songs on "Kissingsohard," however, are so vivid that Doe's heavy reliance on this material hardly seemed illogical. Such melodious and engagingly dramatic numbers as "Willamette," "Liar's Market" and the hammering "Love Knows" underscored Doe's status as a gifted, multifaceted and shamefully underappreciated songwriter.

*

His populist tales of disenfranchised citizens living on the edge of a fractured society (a theme that dates to his early days in X) underscored his claim that he's always been a folk artist at heart.

Doe's soaring, strong-lunged vocals were perfectly matched by his band's marvelously synchronized fury. The great D.J. Bonebrake (X's longtime drummer) and guitarist Smokey Hormel were particularly awe-inspiring in their support roles.

Hellbound Hayride, which preceded the John Doe Thing, took a few songs to gain momentum. But when it did, the quartet proved to be a likably ragged rockabilly outfit. These four cool cats were fronted by a tattooed bad boy with a coarse 'n' husky voice and a surprisingly personable manner.

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