Check out our slideshow of X at Warehouse Live...
X Warehouse Live Studio June 3, 2008
Better Than: The same show in the Warehouse Live ballroom - for the audience, if not the band.
Download: Here's John Doe covering the Stones' "Gimme Shelter" on his solo tour last year.
Despite their well-deserved legendary status, X is easy to take for granted, and always has been. That much was obvious when, instead of a bus, on the way in from the parking lot, my friends and I saw a van and trailer parked behind Warehouse Live, the kind of touring rig one of the hundreds (if not thousands) of younger, less revered bands on whom X has been a profound influence might use.
The same held true upon arriving in the venue. I could have sworn the show was scheduled for the ballroom, but either due to slow ticket sales or my misreading the ad, it was in the studio, which was packed. Though Emo's main room in Austin, site of their white-hot SXSW-closing set this year, is a notable exception, X is the sort of band that does best in small rooms, where their nervy punk rock can get right up in your face.
Appropriately, one of the first songs they played was "We're Having Much More Fun," and it certainly seemed like they weren't lying. Guitarist Billy Zoom went the entire 90-minute set with a huge grin on his face, Exene Cervenka didn't so much sing the songs as channel them - "like that short lady with the funny voice in Poltergeist," my friend said; she easily earned her spot in the pantheon of female punk singers that spans from Joan Jett to PJ Harvey - and bassist John Doe played raconteur, bantering with the crowd when not working himself into a red-faced frenzy. Smiling almost as big as Zoom, drummer DJ Bonebrake was the picture of beatnik cool in a porkpie hat and Jack Kerouac T-shirt.
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It's too bad more of X's lyrics - stirring skid-row poetry like "Los Angeles treats everyone like a drunk in bed, washing dirty bums with rain like dishes on the floor" - didn't come through, but their vein-popping, amp-straining songs more than made up for it. Interestingly, although their impact on what would soon become hardcore was easy enough to translate from chain-rattlers like "We're Desperate," most of the set came across like agitated updates of R&B upstarts like the Stones and the Sonics - both punk in its purest form, and not punk at all.
They pushed their maximum R&B even further out front on "Hungry Wolf," which, with its lascivious lyrics and syncopated beat (Bonebrake really outdid himself), was an ideal dedication to the late Bo Diddley. In their own strange way, X are traditionalists, and idealists, too: Doe introduced "The New World" by reminding the crowd to vote, and the triplet-happy arrangement carried a distinct whiff of John Lennon's "Instant Karma."
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Almost 30 years after their debut album Los Angeles hit the West Coast, and then the rest of America, like a delayed-reaction bomb, X still sounds hungry. Their version of punk is celebratory rather than confrontational, a reminder that no-frills, stripped-down rock & roll still stirs the blood like nothing outside fucking or fighting - "Johnny Hit & Run Pauline" had many greybeards in the audience moshing like they were 19 again - and, like X themselves, shows every indication of only getting better with age.
Personal Bias: I've been a fan for a long time, but have never gone through a true "X phase." No time like the present, I guess.
Random Detail: Up close, John Doe bears a striking resemblance to a doughier, dark-haired version of Spoon frontman Britt Daniel.
By the Way: I missed opener the Detroit Cobras, but El Orbits and Allison Fisher Band guitarist/singer Allison Fisher said they sounded like "fireworks in a trash can," which I took to be a good thing. - Chris Gray