More than 30 years after its formation, the legendary Los Angeles band X sounded as good as ever—hell, probably better than ever—as it roared through about 80 minutes of vintage punk 'n' roll Saturday night.
The four original members reunited about a dozen years ago and have been playing regular tours since. This time around, they performed in the venerable Fox, and bassist-vocalist John Doe noted it was "a long way from Tumbleweeds," the long-defunct dive bar where X played its first Tucson gig in 1980.
After all these years, the band still seems relevant and committed. Billy Zoom's guitar peeled out like a souped-up muscle car fueled on a mixture of rockabilly, surf and nitro-charged blues, while jazz-trained drummer DJ Bonebrake found the rhythmic connections between swinging grooves, the Bo Diddley beat and garage rock. The vocal harmonies by Doe and Exene Cervenka remain unique. Their combined howl—sometimes unified, sometimes contrapuntal—artfully melded avant-garde melody, poetic phrasing and rock 'n' roll fury.
And, good lord, the songs! From the opening salvo of "Your Phone's Off the Hook, But You're Not" to the final assault of "Devil Doll," the concert was a testament to the richness of the band's early catalog—the bulk of the set list drew from the first four albums. X's tunes may not possess the same "shock of the new" they once had, but the ensuing years have honed them into precision instruments. Such gems as "The Hungry Wolf," "The World's a Mess; It's in My Kiss," "White Girl," "Los Angeles," "Blue Spark," "Nausea," "Beyond and Back" and "Johnny Hit and Run Pauline" still sounded true; after all, personal trials and social revolution never go out of fashion.
Politically motivated numbers such as "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts" (which Doe and Exene performed with only his acoustic guitar as accompaniment) and "The New World" felt as relevant in 2011 as they did in the early '80s. When the duo sang, "Our whole fucking life is a wreck," during "We're Desperate," you didn't need to believe it literally was the case for these now-middle-age musicians—but you knew someone listening feels exactly that way.