I caught a delightful show tonight at Cafe du Nord. Quirky, fun, poignant, fan-funded singer-songwriter Jill Sobule shared the bill with X frontman and punk icon John Doe.
At first blush, they seem like an unlikely pairing. I’ve seen both of them solo and with others — Doe with X and the Knitters and Sobule trading songs and stories with Julia Sweeney at Yoshi’s as part of SF Sketchfest 2010 — and I was skeptical, but intrigued enough to pass on standing plans to make it to the show. Turns out Doe and Sobule are great together. They’ve even put out a record, also funded by fans, many of whom got to watch while they recorded it.
Early on, Doe announced that he could not compete with Sobule as a raconteur. But he was certainly entertaining and fun to watch, lending the famous near-whine and twangy guitar that personified LA punk to less harrowing fare. His face lit up when he introduced a special guest in the audience who turned out to be his ex, Exene. Clad in what she called “Revolutionary Worker” garb (overalls and a kerchief), the punk goddess harmonized with Doe on “White Girl,” while Sobule and the rest of us looked on reverentially.
At the request of an audience member, Sobule performed “Mexican Wrestler,” which is in my opinion the best, funniest song ever written about an ugly girl’s longing for love. Rivaled only by Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” (and, to a lesser extent, Liz Phair’s “Mesmerizing“), it’s a song written from the point-of-view of girls who don’t get songs written about them. My eyes were tearing even before the first chorus (the achingly plaintive “You will never love me”). It was a heartfelt performance of a song that can really break your heart.
Lighter numbers included a jaunty, F-word laden tune about the Tea Party, “Nothing to Prove,” an ode to being older and wiser in a culture where people younger than you can judge you and control your career, and “I’m in Love with a Girl,” with Doe on vocals. For obvious reasons, the Scott McKenzie-inflected “San Francisco” went over super well. Aided by lyrics displayed on a resourceful audience member’s smart phone screen, Sobule gave in to popular demand to perform “The Bear Song” (yes, that kind of bear), and Exene returned to the stage for a rousing rendition of the Knitters’ “Wrecking Ball.” And while Sobule passed on “I Kissed a Girl,” perhaps her biggest hit, Exene couldn’t pass up the chance harsh on Katy Perry, who famously shot to fame with a song with the same name.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night came during the encore. Doe asked Sobule to explain how the first song of the set got into their repertoire. She said she had been asked to perform it at a wedding. At first she thought it was the corniest song in the world, but then she decided it was great. Doe mentioned that Doors keyboard player and X producer Ray Manzarek would be less than thrilled to know he was doing a song by the Association (incidentally, the very first ban I ever interviewed), since they knocked the Doors out of the #1 spot on the Billboard chart.
Are they about to play “Cherish”? we all wondered.
But no. Sobule strummed “duh-duh-duh duh-duh,” the unmistakable opening sounds of “Never My Love.” And I have to say, she was right. It was pretty fucking amazing. Sobule even conducted an audience sing-along of the “buh-buh-buh-buh” scat-lite harmonic bridge. So fun!
A few songs later, including the Reagan-era protest anthem “More Fun in the New World” with Exene, the two-hour show wrapped. And with that, the largely graying post-punks went back out into the drizzly July San Francisco night.