John Doe/Jon Langford; June 20, 2010; SPACE, Evanston
On paper, the relatively new Evanston venue SPACE had “pretentious” written all over it. Located in an area of Chicago better known as the home of Northwestern University than for live music, the venue’s name is as acronym for Society for the Preservation of Arts and Culture in Evanston. That’s quite a mouthful, but at least they decided to go with the initials. The tickets for all their shows seemed inflated ($35 for Paula Cole, are you kidding me?), but in the case of John Doe and Jon Langford it seemed worth it, whatever the ticket price was.
Once we reached the venue all illusion of pretention faded. The building blended in with its neighbors, mostly shops and cafes, on a shady suburban street. The front half is occupied by Union Pizza, and it is worth noting that their pizzas looked delicious and that you can order and bring into the show. The low stage was boxed by rows of chairs on each side and across the front by small tables with candles that you could reserve for an extra ten bucks per ticket. Standing in line, I got the feeling that a large part percentage of their show goers are probably locals who go to the shows for something to do. This assumption was reinforced by a conversation with the folks behind us in line who wondered if I knew anything about John Doe. They’d heard of Jon Langford (they should have, he is a Chicago celebrity after all) but didn’t know anything about tonight’s headliner.
Other than the fact that he hasn’t spent the last twenty years living in a foreign country, Doe could be Langford’s American twin. Both were members of seminal 80’s punk bands, X and the Mekons respectively, which featured strong male/female vocals and (amazingly) both still sporadically tour with mostly original members. Additionally, both have followed a trail into alt-country territory, Doe with the Knitters and Langford with a number of different bands. His set tonight, much like his show at the house, featured many of the songs from his upcoming Bloodshot release. Many of the songs are about his hometown of Newport in Wales. By all accounts it is a depressing burg, but there’s affection in his tales. Despite leaving it more than three decades ago, he still retains the charming Welsh accent, an accent that makes everything he says swoon worthy. Tonight, he was joined on guitar by Jim Elkington of the Zincs who also plays on the record.
John Doe had an announcement to make, “I was standing back there drinking the whole time Jon was playing, so if there is something you want to hear I might just play it.” That statement was only half true. After a request was made for “Take #52” several times, he made a deal, “how about I play you a song with all that same chords, but that I actually know?” Surprisingly, that song turned out to be a song he didn’t even write. Since the Fourth of July was only two weeks away, he did play another request that he called “very seasonal.” Although I would argue that Dave Alvin’s “Fourth of July” could be played year-round with no repercussions. I figured the only reason he even knew it was that Alvin is also a member of the Knitters; I didn’t know that he had covered that song years ago. Perhaps the best of his originals was a new song called “Walking Out the Door,” as in “why do you always want me when?”
When we told him after the show how much we had enjoyed it, and Michelle declared it her new favorite song, he replied with a curious “I’m very happy for you.” Now that he mentions it, I was pretty happy for us too.