Live Reviews: X

by Mitch Goldman

X--Blockbuster Super Store, Atlanta GA 7/29/95 and Masquerade, Atlanta GA 7/29/95

X have come a *long* way since their appearance in the Penelope Spheeris film THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION way back in 1980. In fact, *all* of the LA hardcore acts have either fallen by the wayside (The Germs, Black Flag), matured (X), or stagnated (Circle Jerks). X have come into a full fledged maturity with their current line-up (the three originals: Exene Cervenka, vocals; John Doe, bass and vocals; D.J. Bonebrake, drums; and Tony Gilkyson, who replaced original guitarist Billy Zoom in 1986). Their newest lp, UNCLOGGED, is a live acoustic reworking of classic X tunes and two new songs. It's getting the best critical lip service of any previous X album since UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN in 1982.

X defined a kind of post-hardcore LA "punk" back in 1980 on their debut lp LOS ANGELES; since Exene and John Doe were young, poor marrieds back then, their early songs documented the harsh lifestyle of a young couple living on the punk edge. Songs like "We're Desperate" "Johnny Hit and Run Pauline" and "Nausea" combined Billy Zoom's punkabilly riffing with John and Exene's Jefferson Airplane-like vocal combination. The lyrics, frequently written by poetess Exene, painted a dismal-yet-romaniticized version of life in LA in the hardcore heyday of the early 80's. Throughout subsequent releases (WILD GIFT, 1981; UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN, 1982; and MORE FUN IN THE NEW WORLD, 1983) X honed their punk/pop tunes to a fine edge. But by THE NEW WORLD, it was clear there was nowhere for one of America's finest bands to go, commercially or artistically. The original lineup had one more album in them (AIN'T LOVE GRAND, 1985), but by then, John and Exene had gotten a divorce, and their love-nest anthems had turned to sagas of breakup and betrayal ("Burning House of Love" "My Goodness" "Around My Heart"). Zoom left in 1985 to pursue his rockabilly roots; Blasters' leader Dave Alvin joined X for one tour in 86, and Tony Gilkyson joined permanently later that year as Alvin exited. But it seemed the end of the road for X...their final studio album SEE HOW WE ARE (1986) is their weakest to date, and was their first without Zoom. They rebounded slightly with a fine double live set in early 87, but X as a unit was finished, and they disbanded later that year.

By the early 90's, the shadow cast by X was looming large over the ever-burgeoning "alternative" rock scene, and X reformed to play some outdoor festivals. Finally, in the summer of 93, seven years after their last studio effort, X released HEY ZEUS!, a stunning comeback album which represented the first time that John and Exene wrote songs seperately for the band. Despite critical panning, the album and subsequent tour brought X back into the alternative limelight, where they've remained for the past two years.

Supporting their UNCLOGGED lp with a tour of mostly acoustic shows, X rolled into Atlanta on July 29 with two separate performances, the first at Blockbuster Music's Superstore in the late afternoon. Armed with a bare arsenal of acoustic necessities, X played a brief (fifteen minutes) set in front of about 20 fans, including early numbers like "I'm Coming Over" and "I See Red", plus John's newest X tune "Lying in the Road".

Things heated up considerably later in the evening as X took the stage at the Masquerade, performing a set that balanced acoustic introspection with punk intensity in front of a few hundred rabid fans. Most of the "hits" were considerably reworked; "White Girl" was turned into a touching ode; "Because I Do" (X's anthem of marriages, both good and bad) became a reflective, haunting melody (thanks to Bonebrake's vibe work); "Burning House of Love" and "The Have Nots" had their inherent country roots brought to the forefront. Tony switched off between electric and acoustic guitars; Exene strummed an acoustic on a couple of songs; and John played both acoustic guitar and electric bass. Thrown into the mix were several tunes by the Knitters, John and Exene's acoustic/country band that recorded one live album in 1985. And a few tunes retained their original electric intensity; "Los Angeles" sounded as fresh and punk-ish as ever.

The crowd forced X back for two unplanned encore segments; the show ended on an-almost reverential note with John's rendition of an old gospel tune, and eighty minutes after the first notes of "White Girl", X left the Atlanta crowd (and the heat!) behind. X has clearly segued into a (dare I say it) middle age comfort that allows them to grow melodically without sacrificing their not-inconsiderable rock roots. Nine years ago, X looked like a dying band; in 1995, it's clear that X can go on as long as they have the passion and commitment for their music.

BLOCKBUSTER MUSIC SET LIST (5:45-600):

In This House That I Call Home
True Love
I'm Coming Over
Lying In The Road
I See Red

MASQUERADE SET LIST (11:11-12:28)

White Girl
Lying In The Road
Baby Out of Jail
I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
Big Blue House
Because I Do
See How We Are
Vigilante Man
The Stage
The New World
Poor Little Critter In the Road
True Love
In This House That I Call Home
I'm Coming Over
I See Red
What's Wrong with Me...

ENCORES:

The Have Nots
Skin Deep Town->
The Call of the Wrecking Ball

Burning House of Love
Los Angeles

Stranger To Me


Copyright 1995
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