The Knitters and PhrancThe Rialto Theatre, Tuesday, Aug. 30
Ever seen a cross between a square dance and a mosh pit? Well, that was the scene at the Rialto when the Knitters came to town.
After an opening set of witty, barbed songs--highlighted by a sing-and-dance-along version of "The Hokey Pokey"--by L.A.-based folk singer Phranc, The Knitters' John Doe and Dave Alvin took the stage. Opening with pair of heartbreaker ballads from their first record from clear back in 1985--"Cryin' but My Tears Are Far Away" and Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings"--it was immediately clear that Doe's voice was in fine, fine form. If there's ever a Mount Rushmore of Americana voices, Doe's will be right up there with Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and (fill in your own choice here). Doe's voice should be sealed in one of those NASA time capsules and blasted into space for the entire universe to hear what life is like here on Earth, in all its glory and heartbreak.
With fellow vocalist Exene Cervenka and snare master DJ Bonebrake (John's compadres from X) and stand-up bass player Jonny Ray Bartel taking the stage, the Knitters raised the roof for two hours of hootenanny hillbilly heaven. They tore through old classics ("Wreckin' Ball," "Poor Little Critter on the Road"), gave new life to Knittified versions of X songs like "Burning House of Love" and "In This House That I Call Home," and played several tracks from their new, second CD, The Modern Sounds of The Knitters. The new songs, like "Dry River," "Long Chain On" and "Rank Stranger," really opened up and breathed live, filling out in ways that are not fully evident on the record. Several times, the band stepped back and let Alvin rip with extended, explosive guitar solos, looking on in genuine wonder as he went off--and then off some--on "Walkin' Cane" and "The New World." The house-party hoedown atmosphere thickened to an almost surreal edge when DJ Bonebrake started goofing and spinning in mock, psych-out circles during an insanely rocking version of "Rock Island Line."
There's something genuinely inspiring and gratifying to see these folks--some of whom have been playing together for a quarter-century--still onstage together, still enjoying each other's company mightily and still making great music. Like they were knitted together.