Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Knitters at Damrosch Park, NYC 8/24/08

The Music Maker Blues Revue opened with a set of rustic acoustic stuff, sounding as if they’d be a lot more fun in a club setting where the old guys could be heard: they didn’t get much amplification. Shockingly, by the time the Knitters took the stage, there were still plenty of empty seats in the spacious park out back of Lincoln Center. Is this just a function of August, has the subway become too expensive or have all the old punks gone off to wherever old punks go? Especially since Patti Smith was headlining the bill? Whatever the case, the X country spinoff were as fun as could possibly have been expected, especially considering that everybody in the band has to be close to fifty by now. Ex-Blaster Dave Alvin did what he does best, supplying sensationally fast, often scorching lead guitar, proving as adept at blues as country while John Doe – playing acoustic guitar in this band – and Exene Cervenka turned in their usual usual imaginative, frequently eerie harmonies. Johnny Ray Bartel fought a bad connection or a busted amp that had his upright bass pretty much inaudible for much of the show, and drummer DJ Bonebrake pounded enthusiastically and minimally away on his snare and not much else.

 

That the Knitters would ever tour in the first place was a fortuitous stroke of fate for X fans, especially this late in the band’s career. The Knitters album was largely responsible for jumpstarting the alt-country movement: they had the Pete’s Candy Store sound ten years before Pete’s Candy Store existed. The original punk rockers gone country (if only for a single album) started out with a punchy version of the old Porter Wagoner hit Something to Brag About (which Jerry Teel and the Big City Stompers do even better), eventually following with their signature song Poor Little Critter in the Road, then some rearranged versions of X classics.

 

John Doe and Exene exchanged some new banter at the beginning of The New World: “Do you have a dollar?” Doe asked.

 

Exene took only an extra split-second to respond, but it felt like an eternity. “No,” she said coldly.

 

“Pretty please?” asked Doe. The rearrangement could have used the booming bass chords that Doe played on the original, but the lyrics have stood the test of time well, especially when the chorus came around. “It was better before, before they voted for whatshisname.” Alvin caustically wound up his solo with a verse of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

 

The rearranged version of the closest thing they ever had to a top 40 hit, Burning House of Love really missed the fiery Billy opening salvo on the record and didn’t go anywhere. But then they reinvented the savagely satirical Skin Deep Town as their own Margaritaville. They wound up the set with a rousing version of Wrecking Ball and closed with a long, haphazard, pointless cover of Born to be Wild.

 

This was the closing night of this year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival, whose theme remains the roots of American music. Meaning plenty of good talent, albeit with some jarring segues. Inventive jazz bassist Charlie Haden played next, leading several family members and friends in their concert debut playing tasteful if predictable versions of oldtime bluegrass and country standards: Going Down the Road Feeling Bad, Wildwood Flower, etc. This was all very pretty until one of his Haden’s kids came up to sing a lite FM Christian pop song he’d written, at which point a substantial portion of the crowd walked out.

August 25, 2008 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews

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