Live in Los Angeles
lot of people don’t like the band X. I guess I can understand that, in a way; some people like bands that fall into one category, instead of being simultaneously rockabilly and punk and country and new wave and, occasionally, heavy metal. But I have always loved that about X, ever since I first heard them in high school more than 20 years ago. DAMN I’M OLD, and damn I love musical acts that care more about what they’re playing than about pandering to any particular demographic.
Some people just hate the way John Doe and Exene Cervenka sing. Personally, I have always loved the way the two interact, Doe with his ragged Johnny Cash croon, Exene with her unhinged Siouxsie Sioux howl, and the way they struggle towards harmony. It always seemed to me to be a perfect metaphor for the way relationships work; we each sing our own song in our own voice, and it is thrilling on the rare occasions when it sounds perfect, but it ain’t gonna stay that forever. This vocal attack—is there a better word for it?—turns a lot of people off, and I guess I can understand that: people want life to be precise and perfect, and they don’t want any reminders that life is not much like that at all.
Like all bands, though, X got corny as X got older. At the time, we thought maybe it was just that the relationship between Doe and Cervenka had deteriorated, and that musical tastes had changed. Later, we understood that it was the lack of Billy Zoom, that visitor from a world where 1950s guitar riffs still rule, and the disenfranchisement of D.J. Bonebrake, the greatest drummer to never be called the world’s greatest drummer. When these two weren’t in the shop, the shop wasn’t running, no matter how good the songs were.
X is kind of back together now, at least in a touring sense, and this album documents a couple of shows last fall at L.A.’s House of Blues. There wasn’t a lot of reason to believe that they could recapture their former magic, but you already know from my grade above that they have done just that. Again, it’s mostly because of Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake, neither of whom have lost an ounce of choppage; they go after these old songs like they want to kill them, and kill they do. Just to hear Zoom do the Chuck Berry intro at the beginning of “Johny Hit and Run Paulene” again, nailing it perfectly, or to hear the way Bonebrake’s fills amp up the drama of “Because I Do”…well, it’s heaven to me, because I love the group, and I love the songs. Add in John Doe’s always-underrated bass skills and you have the best rock trio in the world, reunited and hungry.
But I think you’ll love this record even if you are neutral about X, because John Doe and Exene are back on their game. They keen like banshees, they mutter and squeal and spit out the angry hopeless hopeful lyrics that they wrote two decades ago. These songs sound, if anything, MORE urgent and key than they did when they were echoing around my head back when I was still running the 400 meters for the Canby Union High School track team. “We’re Desperate” is just as funny and fucked-up as it always was, they slide back in and out of sync on “It’s Who You Know” like they never stopped.
And some stuff gains added relevance from being older and wiser. Exene’s testifying on “The World’s a Mess, It’s in My Kiss” has gotten deeper over time, maybe more informed by hip-hop or something, I don’t know. Doe, especially, is a madman. Hearing him, in the burning aftermath of “Los Angeles,” snarl “I’ll drink to THAT, motherfucker” and then gently mock the audience’s enthusiastic response to his gratuitous swearing…oh, man, I’ve been waiting my whole life for that moment, but you’ll like it too. The wall of Zoomsound on “I’m Coming Over” is now a trampoline, and the two singers bounce all over it, and the four of them are having more fun than any other band in the world.
Reviewed by: Matt Cibula
Reviewed on: 2005-05-23