Reviews

X: Live in Los Angeles [CD and DVD]

Will Layman

The seminal LA punk band that has never quite broken up plays their best songs with their classic line-up on the Sunset Strip. And, to our relief, they still sound like much more than just a punk band.


X

Live in Los Angeles [CD and DVD]

Label: Shout! Factory
US Release Date: 2005-05-10
UK Release Date: 2005-05-16
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

X is still a great live band. A quarter century after that cracked onto the LA scene, essentially defining punk in that town, they still rock the old way -- simple back beat, gut-kicking rockabilly guitar and vocals that ride the wave of music directly. This pair of releases -- a CD and DVD of a no-frills, straight-up rock show in November of last year -- delivers the X goods.

X poses a series of dilemmas for rock history buffs or historians. It is a band that both defied and defined an era, and the mystery is that they didn't either (a) blow up the way Talking Heads did, transcending its origins, or (b) explode into nothingness so we could either forget about them or romanticize their absence. X was an original, authentic punk band in a glitzy, unpunky town. Their punk rock credibility was undeniable -- strong, angry lyrics over a direct guitar attack that did not trade in bullshit. Then, when they went beyond punk, it was not to become more accessible in the manner of, say, Elvis Costello or David Byrne, but to embrace the older roots of their punk sound: rockabilly or folk. Though their fronts were John Doe and Exene, the once-married singers, the image of the group for many fans was the pompadoured guitarist, Billy Zoom -- a guy who visually as well as musically bridged the musical divide of the band.

It's in Billy's guitar sound that X makes itself felt most profoundly. The guy can thrash it out, no doubt. But there is an undeniable twang in his sound. Just like The Ramones were always more than punk because they were essentially and self-consciously rooted in '50s and '60s garage rock (in a way that say, the Damned and the Pistols never were and probably never could have been), X seems knowingly to come out of the string-strangling style of Elvis guitarist Scotty Moore. All their tunes, whether they overtly reference rockabilly or not, seem like real rock 'n' roll rather than just "punk rock" -- the act of defiance, the social statement, the music you might play when you're 25 but hardly when you're 50.

So here's X, fully a quarter century after their emergence, aged 50 or better it seems, still playing "Los Angeles" and "Johny Hit and Run Paulene" and "We're Desperate". And they sound great. They sound punk even. They sound like people playing pop music with direct energy genuine conviction and blues wit, which is to say that they sound like rock 'n' rollers, still, whatever kind of rock you want to call it.

As good as they are on this CD and DVD, it's worth noting that this is, essentially, a rock 'n' roll revival act. Not that there's anything so shameful about it. All the songs here are the classic X tunes, the ones from Los Angeles and Under the Big Black Sun and other classic '80s albums. Indeed, we should all thank X for not feeling, like the Stones for instance, that they have to release a new album of crap that no one is even remotely going to want to hear in concert. But on this CD and DVD, X is a revival act, playing the great old songs. Some may argue that the better record, therefore, is 1988's Live at the Whiskey a Go Go, which contains mostly the same tunes but performed closer to time when this music was directly "relevant" or happening. That's a hard case to make, though, given that the 1988 concert didn't feature Billy Zoom. The 2004 version is arguably more authentic.

And so what that "X" aren't writing any new songs? It's not a matter of dried up talent, as John Doe's March 2005 release Forever Hasn't Happened Yet and several earlier solo outings have shown. X was never about just X any, as their side project -- the more roots-rocky, countrified The Knitters -- showed early on. Live in Los Angeles is not a record of a used-up band milking its past one more time -- it's a group of old friends having a great time together once again. And why not?

Whether you're digging the audio or the video version, the concert seems like fun. The band cracks wise between songs, but not in some scripted or planned out way. No Springsteen anecdotes about children, just rock and laughs and fans yelling, dancing and digging it all. You're invited right in, without artifice.

With the passage of time and the chance to really see these guys performs, what comes through is what superb singers Doe and Exene are, particularly together. On recent albums, Doe has duetted to fine effect with rock chicks like Juliana Hatfield and Neko Case, but the former couple of X seem to lock in naturally -- Doe on the bottom, Exene riding the top, the vaguely bored punk phrasing belied by the urgency of the music and the bite of the lyrics. It is quite reminiscent of Talking Heads and Television rather than the shoutier punk of, say, The Clash, and you realize what artful music this always was, even when it was shocking LA kids during the Carter administration. It's probably the most accessible and most grand thing about X -- that you can not only understand the words but actually relate the singing as a human voice the same way you hear Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits or, shit, Sinatra. God forbid, X is a punk band that can not only play its instruments real well but even sing like an angel. And it turns out there's nothing wrong with that.

On the DVD you can even dig JD and Exene doing acoustic duets on a couple of tunes, giving you a lick of their Knitters style and suggesting that punk was never really about volume and offense as much as about directness. And they are.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.

Film

A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.

Music

The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

'Avengers: Endgame' Faces the Other Side of Loss

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our pandemic grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.