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Live review: John Doe and Exene Cervenka, at home onstage at the Echoplex

October 10, 2009 | 11:06 am

In their duo set Friday night at the Echoplex, John Doe and Exene Cervenka dipped into the X songbook several times, including  the title track from the group’s 1987 album “See How We Are,” their brutal and unflinching castigation of a world whose priorities had spun out of control.

How they were was an entirely different story: The founding members of X and the Knitters, and erstwhile husband-wife king and queen of L.A. punk music, were inordinately charming in this exceedingly casual outing, which also touched on their various collaborative and solo musical identities.

That led to a lively post-concert discussion I got into about trying to see who they are. With their long and storied personal history -- together and apart -- synchronous musical vision and disarmingly open, good-naturedly combative banter, it was hard to decide whether 30 years down the pike they have become alternative music’s Louis Prima and Keely Smith, Sonny and Cher or maybe Lucy and Ricky Ricardo.

The punk edge is still there, but there’s also a latter-day sweetness in their interactions. Doe started to introduce a song they’d recently written together, and Cervenka interrupted him. “You’re going to talk about that -- in mixed company?” He just smiled and went on to share with the packed house the inspiration for a song about someone who wakes up to find a longtime partner gone, only to feel surprise at the relief that washes over in realizing that the lover has departed.

Vocally, they were in such impressive sync with those dissonant harmonies they came off as musical siblings of the Everly or Louvin brothers.

Cervenka also offered a couple of songs from her new solo album, “Somewhere Gone,” but had to apologize for not having any copies available for sale “because FedEx didn’t get to my house before I had to leave for this show.”

The first of the new ones she sang was “Surface of the Sun,” an exquisitely sketched plea to a lover who she knows instinctively won’t be around forever. “Please write your name/In fire/On my forehead/So I’ll remember.” She also offered a sweet tribute to her friend and musical collaborator Amy Farris, who died unexpectedly last month.

Despite the stripped-down instrumental accompaniment -- Cervenka’s acoustic guitar, Doe mostly on acoustic, occasionally adding electric guitar to the mix -- there was no loss of the emotional intensity that’s always been part of their best work, just less sonic energy to go with it.

She’ll do a solo show Nov. 10 at Largo at the Coronet, and then X will do its annual “X-mas” holiday concert Dec. 19 at the Wiltern.

-- Randy Lewis

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