X Turns In a Scissory-Sharp Set
Photos by Violeta Alvarez
X Warehouse Live April 10, 2015
When X played Warehouse Live last time, opening for Blondie on the big stage, they unleashed a scorched-earth campaign, leaving the place smoldering with their unbridled energy before Debbie Harry pelted the throngs with punk-disco. This time seizing the venue's smaller room, X offered up a more low-key set, peppered with moments of fiery tumult, that was more akin to their live album Unclogged, released 20 years ago, or the acoustic portion of 1988's Live at the Whisky a Go-Go.
Instead of being tucked into those moments spanning 1978-1985 -- scissory-sharp, combustible, teeming with pure vitriol and voltage -- the songs took on a second life beyond punk's tour-de-force years.
At first, a poor onstage mix, or unsatisfactory monitors, seemed to jostle the band's confidence, as if they had to get the feel for the room while wearing lumpy gloves during tunes like "Beyond and Back" and "In This House That I Call Home." One could almost calibrate the momentary unease. Exene Cervenka, in particular, seemed to be a bit befuddled, but soon the band eased into the set and found firmer sonic footing, as if nothing disruptive had occurred minus a technical cough in the boisterous night.
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Onstage, a Texan joined them. Michael Kilpatrick, drummer of Huntsville-based The Soft Revenge, switched off on second guitar and drums. A friend of Billy Zoom and fellow cancer survivor, he allowed Zoom to skip over to his saxophone for rarely played live songs like "Come Back to Me," with its drowsy, vintage AM-radio flair.
Now, with a laid back vibe due to Kilpatrick's acting as extra percussionist, "man of many hats" DJ Bonebrake switched over to vibraphone now and then. Hence, the songs seemed more like candid snapshots of their musical catalog, shot through with musical maturity, not simple defiance. No matter; the audience seemed pulled along just the same, enjoying the songs' bitter tales with glee.
Zoom, usually posed with legs splayed open and frozen smile on his face, seemed more like a serene elder statesman affixed to his chair like later-years Les Paul. He mesmerized the crowd with nimble, contorted fingers that easily re-interpreted their punk-rockabilly hybridity with small jazz interludes. He exuded minor indulgences too, like licking a guitar pick and wearing it on his forehead, like a plastic tattoo, providing some levity to his fine craft.
The superb "Unhead Music," also the title of X's documentary, while always a dark serenade of Los Angeles in the grips of lost and despondent youth "locked out of the public eye" and setting the trash on fire, seemed like a murmuring, melancholic rumination. Gone were the Doors keyboard flourishes found on the LP; in tonight's roots-rock musical bevy, the band unleashed a funeral lament equipped with Bonebrake's vibraphone and downcast charm.
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"Hungry Wolf" was infinitely rhythmically stretched with maracas and bongos, becoming less tribal as it morphed into a loungy, funky-feral version, as if Curtis Mayfield hijacked the song or the band was performing at the vintage Balinese Room in Galveston.
Bonebrake, in fact, was bedecked in an Operation Ivy T-shirt, paying homage to the post-hardcore ska punks that reigned in the Bay Area in the late 1980s, yet he played rather softly when on drums, playing throughout the night with delicate strokes, not steely skin-slaps.
Some tunes did compact themselves into blood-throbbing statements, like the tightly rendered noir beach tune "Blue Spark" (always reminds me of writer John Fante) and lean crowd pleaser "White Girl." In turn, "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts" was dedicated to Keith Morris of both Circle Jerks and OFF! who roiled the House of Blues last weekend with his personal thunder. That drew applause and roars of approval.
And they actually waited until the encore to unveil "Adult Books," X's recently re-released first single. Introducing the song, Doe exposed an interesting note about its triggering idea. No less than Engelbert Humperdinck was "the evil villain that helped create this song in a way," he attested, as Bonebrake seemed to guffaw and recoil.
Then they delivered a true solid punch to the evening, "Devil Doll," jokingly referred to as "Devil Dogg" on the handwritten set list in front of Doe.
X might not have walloped the crowd with the manic force they harnessed last time, but they delivered a satisfying soul kitchen worth of tunes exploring their roots, musical breadth, and passion for literate poetic territory.
Personal Bias: More than ten years ago, I shopped at a last-call thrift store in Austin with Exene Cervenka and Randy 'Biscuit" Turner of the Big Boys. One person's trash is another's treasure.
The Crowd: A crew of vintage indie, underground, punk, and rockers, slightly silver-foxy in the hair, or with a few wrinkles like myself, along with some young Turks trying to soak up the authentic punk vibes.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Who is that other guy onstage?"
Random Notebook Dump: Nothing is much more exciting than an entire crowd singing "Los Angeles" at full volume.
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