I was first acquainted with punk-rock sensation X my sophomore year of college, when my friend Mike used to blare Los Angeles all the time from his room in Pilam.
At the time, the record was just shy of 25 years old; if you asked me then, I probably would have guessed it was current. There’s something about the band’s volatile, high-powered sound that has aged very well – even as it’s shifted over the years, from raw, gutsy punk rock to more polished post-punk tunes.
Their current tour marks the band’s 32nd anniversary; it also comes at the tail end of the harrowing announcement that vocalist Exene Cervenka is suffering from multiple sclerosis (read the story here). Yet judging by their performance last night at the World Café Live, you’d never know it – the foursome sounded tighter than ever, and their energy and enthusiasm had the crowd riled up and loving it.
Former Agent Orange/The Adolescents punk-rocker Steve Soto opened, with his current band, the Twisted Hearts. A feel-good Americana act drenched in accordion, melody and toe-tapping beats, the five-piece quickly won the crowd over with a half-hour set of rollicking, roots-y tunes.
X took the stage next and the crowd surged forward, eager to partake in the punk-rock madness.
“So, our set tonight is a result of what you guys voted for online [at www.xtheband.com],” says singer/bassistJohn Doe, looking limber and ready to rock in a Western-style shirt and jeans. “Soooo…if you don’t like what we play, and you DIDN’T vote, I suggest beating up the other people in the audience who did.”
The band’s hour-and-forty-five minute set was heavily skewed towards older material, with more than a dozen tracks off Los Angeles, Wild Gift, and Under the Big Black Sun. Doe himself was a maniac of frenzy and attitude, buckling his knees and sweating profusely under the lights, while Cervenka’s impassioned vocals gave the sound that extra kick. Guitarist Billy Zoom – known for his bizarrely charismatic behavior of making eye contact with audience members – stood at the very edge of the stage, strumming his guitar lackadaisically, and scanning the crowd. At one point, I swear he posed for a photograph and winked at me!
For their encore, Doe and Cervenka kicked things off with an acoustic version of "Your Phone's Off the Hook, But You're Not," the first track off Los Angeles, their first record. The stripped down melody had the crowd mesmerized…and when they finished, and Zoom and drummer D.J. Bonebrake crept back on stage for a no-holes-barred rendition of “Burning House of Love”, the venue nearly exploded in energy and applause. X might have been around the block a few times, but these guys are still rocking hard – and loving every minute of it.