Classic Form

The line-up of X is restored to its original glory.

One of the most important and influential bands to emerge from the Los Angeles punk scene during the late 1970s, the creative quartet X blended rockabilly, blues, punk-rock and avant-garde sensibilities with Bohemian poetry, social-consciousness and tawdry tales from America's underbelly.

Now the band will return to Tucson in its classic form and full glory--which means complete with original guitarist Billy Zoom--for a concert Saturday night, Feb. 21, at the Rialto Theatre. The Knockout Pills, one of Tucson's most promising traditional punk-rock bands, will open the show.

Anchored by the jazz-influenced drumming and marimbas of percussionist D.J. Bonebrake, X has for more than 20 years provided a wonderful forum for the call-and-response vocal interplay of one of the great singing duos in rock music--bassist John Doe and literary lyricist Exene Cervenka. And Zoom's souped-up guitar playing was always a joy.

Zoom, he of the blond ducktail, silver leather jacket, hot-rod riffs and cherubic smile, left X in the mid-'80s to be replaced by two ax-men who are no slouches themselves.

Dave Alvin, former Blaster and an estimable singer-songwriter in his own right, joined up after collaborating with the band on the old-time and folk project The Knitters, which produced one album, the delectable Poor Little Critter in the Road. He stuck around a while before the righteous, roots-rockin' Tony Gilkyson stepped into the string-slinger's role.

The group only has recorded two albums of new, original material since then--1987's inspired See How We Are and 1993's undercooked Hey Zeus! Along the way, there were the explosive X Live at the Whiskey a Go-Go on the Fabulous Sunset Strip and the all-acoustic Unclogged.

But most diehard X fans consider the years with Zoom the band's heyday. Those were the years during which brilliant albums such as Los Angeles, Wild Gift, Under the Big Black Sun, More Fun in the New World and Ain't Love Grand re-defined the three-chord fury of punk and helped demonstrate that the roots of rock 'n' roll-- raw blues, country, folk, rockabilly--are ever-evolving and all-inclusive. Cynical radio formatters tried for a while to capitalize on this style by calling it "Americana" and promoting more watered-down versions of it.

In the mid-'90s, the band drifted apart to tackle solo projects such as The Joe Doe Thing and Exene's Original Sinners and Auntie Christ. Bonebrake also kept busy with his Orchestra Superstring and Bonebrake Syncopators.

The original line-up of the band regrouped in 1998. Since then, X has recorded one song, a cover of The Doors' "Crystal Ship," for the soundtrack album for The X-Files: Fight the Future. That recording also marked the band's reunion with former Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who produced X's first four albums.

If you want to delve more deeply into the history of X, check out Rhino Records' CD re-releases of the band's early albums (packed with bonus cuts, naturally) or the retrospective set Beyond and Back: The X Anthology. You'll hear what all the fuss is about.

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