The Knitters (August 2nd, 2005, First Avenue, Minneapolis)
The legend of The Knitters is a mighty strange and expansive one. It's based mostly on half-truths, many of which you can read on www.theknitters.net. It doesn't matter whether you believe these stories anyway---anyone lucky enough to have seen them knows that the real appeal is the music, not the mystique.
I first heard about The Knitters several years ago around the same time I was rediscovering the great Los Angeles punk band, X. I heard there was this side project featuring the legendary Dave Alvin, and people kept talking about this classic release they put out in 1985 called Poor Little Critter on the Road. At the time, the record was out of print and very hard to find. I also heard John Doe making references at his live shows about the time he thought he was Merle Haggard and used to play a song called "Silver Wings." I was compelled to find out more and finally tracked down the re-release of Poor Little Critter when it was put out by Slash Records in 1993. Finally, I could hear this band in all its original glory.
The Knitters have made occasional live appearances over the last twenty years, but they have rarely ventured out of the Western states. This year, not only is there a full-blown tour in progress, but they've also released a new full-length CD aptly called The Modern Sounds of the Knitters. The band will be touring throughout the month of August, hitting spots in the Midwest, Canada, the Eastern United States, and the South, before heading back west.
First Avenue was lucky enough to snatch up one of their tour dates, and it was a show not to be missed. I was surprised that the crowd was only about two-thirds capacity for the show, but it was still a very enthusiastic crowd for a Tuesday night.
I arrived just in time to see Dave Alvin and John Doe onstage playing some of the sadder, more melancholy Knitters tunes. (They opened with "Silver Wings," which I was sorry to have missed.) After they finished that part of the set, the rest of the band joined them and John said that was all the sad songs we were going to hear that night. Exene Cervenka balked a little at that comment, as I'm sure she had a few sad songs of her own planned that night, but they jumped right into a raucous and fun set, including a cover of X's "The New World."
There was plenty for anyone to love about this show, and it was one of
the most enjoyable I've seen in a long time. The best part was seeing
how much fun they were having and how happy they all looked after all
these years. I must admit I’m still a little in awe whenever I see
John Doe, Exene Cervenka and DJ Bonebrake sharing a stage
together. The X show at First
Avenue a couple years ago still lives in my memory as the best show
I saw that year, and maybe one of my favorites of all time. John and Exene
still have the chemistry they've always had, not to mention they still
rock, they still look great, and I still love them whether they're covering
X songs or doing updated renditions of traditional songs. Dave Alvin's
guitar playing was another great reason to enjoy this show. He is a truly
amazing performer, and neither of The Knitters albums do him justice.
He is one of those guys you have to see live to really appreciate, and
I never knew how big his contributions were until I saw him play live
at this show.