It would seem that every band that ever filled a venue in the 1980s has made, or will eventually make, a reappearance. Saturday night was the Knitters’ turn.
Originally a spinoff from X and the Blasters, a pair of bands on the Slash label, the Knitters were a quieter, gentler version of those groups, pairing X’s John Doe and Exene with Blasters songwriter (and occasional X guitarist) Dave Alvin, who, in fact, contributed X’s most successful radio song, “4th of July.” Add X drummer D.J. Bonebrake and Red Devils bassist Johnny Ray, and you have the Knitters.
At the peak of the acts’ underground popularity, the mid-’80s, Slash released “Poor Little Critter in the Road,” which explains the post-punk, post-35 audience that sold out the House of Blues.
Folksy, rootsy and backed by Bonebrake on snare drum and Ray on standup bass, the Knitters turned the HOB concert into a hootenanny of sorts. Doe and Alvin came out first, playing “Silver Wings” and “Crying But My Tears Are Far Away” as a duo, before Exene and the rhythm section joined them for the title song of their only disc.
They stuck entirely to that record, except for a smattering of redone X numbers like “Surprise Surprise,” “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” and “The Have Nots.” In fine voice and with Alvin a thoroughly accomplished player, the Knitters were that rarest of acts: traditional, but not stunted or stiff. They acknowledged as much by suggesting a “square-dance” pit instead of a mosh pit, and then informed the audience that they were “aware of what was going on now” by breaking into “Achy Breaky Heart” and line dancing. (Guess no one told them “Achy Breaky Heart” is a golden oldie in 1999).
Finishing their set with a rousing and silly song about chicken farming called “Wrecking Ball,” the Knitters returned to play a three-song encore climaxing in the folk standard “Rock Island Line.” With the song’s accelerating tempo and folk at a punk pace, the Knitters truly hit their mark as a curiosity from a different time when genres in music weren’t so cleanly delineated. This is welcome. If they want to come back to stay, there will always be a place for the Knitters.