The Knitters (X's John Doe, Exene Cervenka and D.J. Bonebrake on acoustic guitar, vocals and snare and hi-hat, respectively, with the Blasters' Dave Alvin on electric guitar and Johnny Bartel on upright acoustic bass), played two insanely hi-caliber shows at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood the last two nights. To say they killed would be putting it mildly...they DESTROYED Seattle.
I'd always thought of them as X's folky acoustic side-project on the merits of their two albums. Live, though they are a lot louder than you'd think and much more reminiscent of the Rockabilly acts the Blasters take their cues from.
The first night, I was a little worried about Exene. She was as cute as ever in her truckstop diner waitress attire but she seemed to be pouting and in a cynical mood all night. I thought that she had turned into a bitter old lady, and her vocals seemed a little flat and uninspired. The show was still exceptional though. I've seen Dave play as a solo act, with the Original Blasters and now with the Knitters and he is clearly one of the best guitarists out there. Don't know the name of the model of guitar he was playing, but it had a super thin neck and small headstock yet made some ferocious tones. He and John started things off both nights as a duet with "Silver Wings" and a couple of other numbers before bringing the rest of the band out. The first night was Monday, and when John introduced "The New World," he said "this next song is an old song. Me and Exene and D.J. have been doing it for a long time, probably too long. But we're gonna do it again." Written in the Reagan era it's lyric about "honest to goodness, the bars weren't open this morning, they must've been voting for a new president or something" and the refrain of "it was better before, before they voted for what's his name, this was supposed to be the new world" are still quite fitting. Dave did an insane shredding solo breakdown at the end throwing in a few Chuck Berry moves. The whole set was great, with "Poor Little Critter In The Road" and "Wrecking Ball" (in this night's version, the protagonist saves-or causes-the plane to land on the Hudson) standing out. Great mix of old Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, X tunes and a Dave Alvin number or two.
The second night had about 60% of the same material, but completely resequenced. John also had different stories and introductions for all of them, a sign of his being "in the moment". I get a little tired of seeing musicians doing the same show and not even changing their spoken word bits. Funny the first time, redundant the next. There were some great tunes on Night 2 not featured on Night 1 such as "Rock Island Line" and the show ending "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts". Exene was clearly in a better mood, cracking smiles, sharing in the stage patter and sounding much better and enthused.
The mood was quite celabratory all night, and during the version of "The New World" on night 2, they called up local hero Eddie Vedder to share the vocals. I've got about a ten second video clip of it on my cellphone but I have no idea how to upload it. There are probably better youtube clips being posted though, since I saw a lot of folks filming it.
Great show. Tonight, they're in Portland, two nights later in S.F. and then a couple of more shows further south down the California coast before the tour ends. Get it while you can!