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IN TUNE: X -es John Doe and Exene show how they are

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

When you get down to it, “folk music and punk are pretty similar,” John Doe said from the City Winery stage. Then a polite but enthusiastic crowd got an abject lesson.

Jerry DeMarco (Publisher/Editor)

Doe said he didn’t want to deconstruct what he and Exene Cervenka are doing on this acoustic to u r, one without roadies or a lead guitarist (fretboard wizard Billy Zoom, Exene said, “lives somewhere just outside 19 63 .”). Some academic somewhere is probably writing such a thesis already, Doe theorized.

But when they ripped into “See How We Are,” many of us got to see the direct connections between, say, Brenda Lee and Auntie Christ.

Combined, their catalog is rich, and now and then they‘ll borrow a bit. They even did a customary Dave Alvin song, only it was “Dry River” and not “Fourth of July” (FYI: They’ve got a brief mini-Knitters tour booked later this month with him that closes in Exene’s favorite music city, Austin).

To mature from legendary power punks X to an acoustic duo that can keep an audience rapt in songs of hope and desperation is no mean feat.

5/2/10 (City Winery)

But opening with “Burning House of Love” pretty much cued in the faithful that — global warming, terrorism and greed be damned — we were gonna have fun on a steamy Sunday night in Soho.

Despite an earlier announcement by the house, Doe told everyone to turn their cellphones back on.

However, he said, “if you’re doing it to check your email, you have to ask yourself why you’re here.”

Christine Cervenkova, 54, with her silent-film-star face and 100%-humidity hairdo, was there to please her ex, even though someone gave her roses before the set that made him mockingly jealous.

Author of four books, exhibited collage artist — and MS survivor — Exene also treated the adoring throng to her unique, irresistible anti-Nicks sorcery.

5/2/10 (City Winery)

5/2/10 (City Winery)

It isn’t always easy to describe the joy of watching world-known artists who feel like friends, but that’s the way both have been since the beginning, some 30 or so years ago. For 50-somethings like me, this is OUR Johnny Cash and June Carter. And they’ve done it without compromise.

Someone I’ve admired since just around the time these two got together mentioned last week that, every now and then, a show comes down that you could see again the very next night. This was one of them.

Doe can sing. He can write. He can even play well enough to get by, even when he has to take time out to tune (“It‘s the air conditioning,” he explained, laughing).

Exene, meanwhile, is a unique cross of domestic goddess and guttersnipe — Roseanne Barr meets Janis Joplin. She wrings out the melancholy without ever crossing the line into melodrama. A chanteuse without airs.

And they know how to mix it up — shoot, they‘ve each had more side projects than Chris Rock.

Just when you’ve flipped over reworked versions of “Because I Do” and “This House I Call Home,” Exene channels Tammy Wynette for “Surface of the Sun,” from her first solo LP in 18 years, “Somewhere Gone,“ or John starts to talk about the governor‘s race in California and, before they hit the first note, someone in the audience starts singing, “Honest to goodness, the bars weren‘t open this morning….”

5/2/10 (City Winery)

(Oh, wait: That was me.)

The jury’s still out on how well rock-and-rollers age. But folk-based artists such as JD and Exene are the blues and traditional country singers of our generation. They not only can play human jukebox — they can still write, record and perform music of the heart. And they’ll likely continue doing it for a good, long time.

All you needed for proof was the encore: “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts.”

The world may be a mess, but they can still kiss.

*****CITY WINERY : For a full list of shows and events, as well as the opportunity to buy tickets without getting fleeced, go to city and select your own seat(s). The service is outstanding, the street parking is abundant, and afterward you can either zip right into the Holland Tunnel, head toward one of the East River crossings, or turn around for a buzz up Sixth Avenue. Hit the lights at just the right time, with minimal traffic, and you’ll make it past Radio City. Oh, and it truly is a winery. A great one, too.


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