I don’t usually go in for hearing old bands live, touring with their old material for whatever reason (Steely Dan? and I’ve resisted both chances to hear the B-52s this summer). But X is different: hearing X makes me happy, makes me want to move to Los Angeles, and I’ve lived in Los Angeles. It could be argued that X is an important band, despite being unknown to a surprisingly large percentage of my friends, influential beyond their popularity, a band’s band maybe, like Pere Ubu.
I first heard X about 35 years ago, give or take, at a small club out Clairemont Mesa, gone now. don’t remember the name, maybe the Bacchanal but maybe not. There were a few rows of seats facing the stage and that was about it. Some drugs in the bathroom, or maybe that’s a misremembered TV show. Last week I attended the second of two sold out X shows at the Belly Up, a bigger venue than that first one but still what one might call “intimate.” Two nights before it was X Day at Dodger Stadium. They’re on their 40th Anniversary Tour.
X is back the same as it ever was, all four original members–Exene Cervenka, John Doe, Billy Zoom, and D. J. Bonebrake– forty years older. X is what we might have called in the late 60s a power trio with a chick singer, though I doubt I’d dare. They have power, straight-ahead punk sound, unrelenting even, coupled with the tight, unforgiving, shout singing vocal harmony between John Doe and Exene. (The only reason I hesitate to use the word “punk” is because they’re so good musically, unlike, say, the Dead Milkmen. And Billy Zoom, perhaps the straightest looking middle-aged musician I’ve seen in a long time, can flat play.) X is rarely subtle, musically, and the message of one of their best songs, Johnny Hit and Run Paulene, suffers from it, misconstrued into its opposite so that they stopped playing it for a while (but not anymore). Some of the songs are newer (Billy played a sax of some size on a couple of them) but the sound is pretty much the same, and these guys are still alive. Exene in particular–and I know the term is overused–a force of nature.
The audience was a bit punky, pogoing and jerking side-to-side, at least in my neighborhood, people probably younger than the band, but okay, better for me than the screamers at the Lana Del Rey show at the House of Blues. At one point, sometime after eleven, someone in the audience requested a song. John Doe answered, “It’s coming,” and “You were here last night motherfucker, you know what’s going on.” A little later they launched a medley, mostly from their first album, without breaks, Los Angeles, Your Phone’s Off the Hook but You’re Not, Nausea, Johnny Hit and Run Paulene, Motel Room in my Bed, and Soul Kitchen (a Doors song they do better), and an encore from a later album, The New World (my favorite) and Devil Dog. This is all according to Setlist, I was too busy listening to take notes.
The warm up band, LP3 and the Tragedy, was pretty good too, with a sound that at first made me wonder why X looked so different.