“Tonight was just like the old days. It was great,” Exene Cervenka told me after X’s show in New Orleans on May 18th at One-Eyed Jacks, as she wiped sweat from her face, still glowing with the energy from playing to a packed house. “It WAS a great show,” John Doe reiterated. “Couldn’t have fucked it up.”
Out on their 40th Anniversary Tour, the preeminent Los Angeles punk band X are celebrating by not “old-aging” their music. Playing sweaty clubs where their music catches fire best, they speed through such classic X songs as “Los Angeles,” “Johnny Hit & Run Paulene,” “Beyond & Back,” “Year 1” and “The World’s A Mess, It’s In Your Kiss.” It was as if the songs were being reborn from a volcano, full of lightning and thunderbolts and emotional exaltations of “Set me free, I’m ready to jump into the chaos.”
From the moment Doe, Cervenka, guitar player Billy Zoom and drummer DJ Bonebrake walked onto the stage, the crowd was eager to eat them up. They yelled, they sang, they danced. No wonder Exene was having a deja vu moment. It was like Los Angeles circa late 1970’s all over again, where fans sought out the band to bask in the glow of a sound that spoke to them. “In LA, the live music scene was kind of dead,” Doe said in a recent interview with Glide about the early days. “We thought, with a number of other misfits, that we’d kind of try to revive it.” Thus X was born and forty years later, “[fans] still jump around on occasion and it’s a good thing.”
Opening for X was Texas rockabilly punkette Rosie Flores, who played acoustic guitar, accompanied by fiddle player Tamineh Gueramy, and kicked up her heels on eight songs, including Dave Alvin’s “Long White Cadillac,” the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant” and her own “Little But Loud” and “This Cat’s In The Dog House.” The title track off her upcoming album, “Simple Case Of The Blues,” was like a mouth-watering gumbo. “We want to make your ears bleed just a little bit,” Flores said before moving into “Ruin This Romance,” a crowd favorite. After telling everyone it had been a long time since she last played New Orleans, by the audience’s reaction over her set, she needs to drive over more often from Austin, Texas.
As Doe promised, X played a few songs that haven’t always been in their set over the years: “Must Not Think Bad Thoughts,” “Come Back To Me” and “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes.” “It’s easy to just coast and we’re not doing that,” Doe explained a few weeks ago. “We’re expanding and playing these songs that are kind of odd for us and that feels good, you know, challenging yourself and so forth.” Drummer Craig Packham has been joining the band on tour, allowing for Bonebrake to play vibes on the aforementioned songs while Zoom handles some saxophone, an instrument he learned early on but it didn’t attract the girls enough, he told me afterwards.
Although he played the show while sitting on a stool, Zoom’s guitar was emotional and spirited, adding that rockabilly flavor in the best way to X’s music. “I give Billy Zoom most of the credit for including rockabilly in punk rock music,” said Doe. “I mean, the Cramps did it to a degree but with the kind of guitar playing that Billy had or does, nobody else did that at that time.” Zoom told me that he had been into rockabilly long before it was ever called rockabilly, and his passion for it showed on every note.
Introducing “The Unheard Music,” Exene, wearing a lacy skirt and black t-shirt emblazoned with Good, Bad & The Ugly era Clint Eastwood, thought it was time to “Slow it down and darken it up,” while Doe acknowledged what had been on everyone’s mind that day: the death of Soundgarden’s singer. “We’re sending this out to Chris Cornell.”
Otherwise, X kept the music sparking. One of the highlights of the night was Bonebrake’s drum solo during “Hungry Wolf.” While laying down big, fat, heavy jazz-influenced beats he was joined by Brady Blade for an impromptu duet on the same drum kit, a rhythm lover’s surprise present.
All in all, you couldn’t ask for a better show from X. When you walk out of a venue hot, sweaty and exhausted, you know you’ve just experienced something special.