review and photos by Brian Cullen
Just over a week ago, I got the opportunity to see one of the most important bands of all time. I’m not going to pretend to be some kind of lifelong X-super fan. I started listening to them so recently that when I bought their seminal album (Los Angeles) the waify Jacqueline-Black behind the counter looked down at me and asked “You don’t already have this?”
Built in part on X’s foundation, one of Seattle’s funnest bands to watch, The Heels opened the night. This band consistently blows me away with its outlandish combination of loud clothes, plush horses and rrrrrraw garage sound. Bring (2) parts Joan Jett to a boil. Add (1) part Billy Childish in stilettos and fishnets. Finally, stir in (4) parts pure attitude and you’ve got yourself one hell of a twangy meal bubbling over into your lap. These ladies (and one guy) truly bring the pain. The best kind of pain. The kind that keeps you coming back for more. You will see them. You will like the pain. You will ask for more.
Watching X play in 2009 it is impossible to deny their impact on the many incarnations of punk, hardcore and indie rock that have I have followed my entire life. Exene and John Doe’s poetic twist on punk rock created a universal blueprint for musicians far and wide. From Sonic Youth’s most obtuse to Green Day’s most accessible — the influence is undeniable.
By 1977, punk rock was decimating the West Coast with hard-hitting aggressive songwriting that would become eventually become the framework for countless generations to come. One of the most imaginative bands to rise up from the Los Angeles scene, X was beating its unorthodox brand of urban-art-punk upside the skulls of fans long before I took my first steps. (Ok, not that long — I’m old.)
X’s sound can undoubtedly be credited to its diversity of players. Billy Zoom’s rockabilly touches infused with Doe and Exene’s off kilter melodies jibe perfectly with DJ Bonebrake’s pummeling percussion to create a perfect storm of colliding influences. That being said, live Friday night The Showbox stage and that band belonged to X’s rhythm section. DJ’s hard-charging beats filled the air like drums are supposed to. Never for an instant did feel it like these songs could fall apart. At age 55 John Doe played and sang with a ferocity that could inspire a fresh-faced legion of Mike Watt’s to take up arms. To say he was really givin’er would be an understatement of epic proportions. Do you play like that every night John? I would be seriously freaked out if my Dad was sweating as hard as you were. Amazing.
I was a little disappointed with Exene and Zoom’s energy (or lack thereof) on stage. Don’t get me wrong: Zoom played a flawless set with an enormous grin on his face. Unfortunately the grin was so creepy I had to look away (sorry Billy, I know it’s your thing and the ladies seemed receptive so more power to ya). Exene was the least animated of the crew but still found a way to come alive at all the right moments.
Seeing X power through a set-list chosen by their fans, it became clear that each of the personalities onstage was very different. Each of these players has seen a lot of life in the years following their initial successes together. It is these very differences that made X so unique to begin with; and it’s the reason it still works today. If you get the chance, buy the ticket.