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John Doe remains at home

Brighton Music Hall, Boston, December 5, 2011

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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In the case of John Doe, you just can't keep a good man down. He may be 57, but he doesn't show much sign of slowing down. He's still playing with his main meal ticket , the punk band X along with occasional gigs with the country side project The Knitters; and his own band (okay, he does have a few other things doing like a disc with Jill Sobule) with whom he appeared on this night.

This was a night in which the music grew better and better over the course of 100 minutes. At first, the music was too loud and not quite distinctive enough.

Maybe it was the order of the songs because it took awhile for everything to click. The music rocked, went rootsy, soft and loud.

Doe said no matter what he is in, he always played New World from X. As Doe made clear in giving support to the Occupy movement, the song still speaks volumes today, and Doe made it clear it was heartfelt.

Doe played almost all of his "Keepers" disc, which dropped in August. There was a lot of good material to work from, although Doe offered songs from varying parts of his career.

A real highlight was the presence of pedal steel player Maggie Bjorklund, who hails from Denmark. While hard to hear early on, Bjorklund assumed more and more of a presence as the show wore on. She gave the music a rootsy feel and played a sometimes dominating role, a welcome change from going the guitar route. She was a keeper.

Cindy Wasserman, who also plays in Dead Rock West, was effective on backing vocals (although she took one lead turn in part of a song near the end). Wasserman provided a good vocal contrast to Doe and could have given even more face time.

The hour may have been growing late and the crowd not too large (maybe about 80), but Doe and his band kept heading in the right direction. No matter who he's playing with, Doe remained right at home on the stage after all these years.

Robert Ellis preceded Doe with a winning set mixing country and folk songs. That was no surprise given that his recent 'Photographs" disc was split into A and B sides (it's, in reality, physically one disc).

Playing solo acoustic, the Texas native proved more engaging on the country material, including his take on

A Good Year for the Roses, with George Jones' version serving as his touchstone. Ellis, 23, has a full voice, which he put to good use. His own Comin' Home about heading back home to see his wife after life on the road was a particular highlight.

Ellis said afterwards that he wasn't too interested in doing a similar split disc again since he doesn't want to do the same old same old. That's understandable, but at least what he's pushing now worked.