From the first plea in their opening cover of Waylon Jennings’ “Stop the World and Let Me Off,” you could feel that last Tuesday night’s set from John Doe and the Sadies at the Lion’s Lair would be remarkable. Doe joined with the Canadian alt-country quintet that night for an evening filled with classic country covers and a few originals that transported the small dive back in time.
Hearing sad and winsome songs like Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” Roger Miller’s “Husbands and Wives” and Hank Snow’s “(Now and Then) There’s a Fool Such As I,” performed with such reverence, sent me back to AM-Radio-filled nights on family road trips in the early ‘70s. And I know I wasn’t alone. For about two hours, the packed venue was so thick with sentiment you could feel it mixing with the sweat and see it on the crowd’s transfixed faces.
The Sadies, playing backup for Doe, were perfect in their performance, right on target with each song’s essence. Brothers Dallas and Travis Good, both brilliant songwriters in their own right, traded slow, lonesome chords or bluesy picking and rockin’ licks over a solid rhythm section provided by Sean Dean on stand-up bass and Mike Belitsky on drums. While Doe sang the majority of leading vocals with his characteristically strong and heartbroken voice, both of the Good brothers also sang a few each, and provided backup.
For the many heartbreaking classics, there were also plenty of boot-stomping numbers, overflowing with hard country twang. The crowd loved them all, as they jumped and jerked to a lightning-fast version of “The Sudbury Nickel,” a Sadies instrumental featuring Travis on a mean fiddle, or pumped their fists in the air to Merle Haggard’s “Are the Good Times Really Over for Good?” There were times, like during covers of X’s “The Have Nots” and “The New World,” or Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City (I Want to Go Home)” when Dallas Good sounded like a young Keith Richards, playing slurring blues guitar, and playing them perfectly.
Doe was characteristically punchy with the packed house, repeatedly chiding Denver natives for “being so tough, at a mile high, and all…” He also showed his appreciation, saying “There are people east of the Mississippi who just don’t get it. They keep waiting for us to play something different,” before thanking the crowd for raucous applause. At another point, he “realized that (Porter Wagoner’s) “Cold, Hard Facts of Life” may not have been the best choice” for an encore, but couldn’t have been more mistaken. As he told the wrenching tale of infidelity, I saw more than a few people swaying, shaking their heads in their hands, some choking back a tear, their agony belied by the thunder of applause at the end.
Played out on a small stage in the Lion’s Lair, likely the coolest dive bar on the longest main street in the country, this show was a fitting way to pay tribute to songs that make up the foundations of American rock music, done by one of its most enduring heroes. It will likely also remain a show that most present will never forget.
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Billy Thieme is a Denver-based writer, an old-school punk and a huge follower of Denver’s vibrant local music scene. Follow Billy’s giglist at Gigbot.