Since 1977 (with a hiatus or two along the way) the quartet of Exene Cervenka, John Doe, D.J. Bonebrake, and Billy Zoom have influenced punk rock in America, and if you think they’re probably old and tired, think again. Few bands of any age can match the driving momentum of an X show.
On Wednesday night at First Avenue X celebrated their long-time collaboration and gave the crowd a raucous mix of favorites and deep cuts, including some rearrangements with different moods, like a soulful side to “True Love.” Cervenka and Doe delivered their fiery duets on such classics as “White Girl,” “The World’s a Mess, It’s in My Kiss,” “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts,” and, of course, “Los Angeles,” an anthem for the west coast punk scene that X ignited.
Doe had fun wielding his beat-up bass, sweating buckets with all of us in the hot room. He even asked the lighting crew to turn on a disco ball. (Alas, one was not at the ready). His smooth, melodic voice has always provided a cool counterpoint to X’s rolling-thunder rhythms, and he showcased it to fine effect on songs such as “This House That I Call Home” and “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene.”
Cervenka, with her petite frame, wild mane, and cowboy boots, sized us all up and then unleashed a great performance, complete with signature floppy-doll moves, her own unique counterpoint to the pulsing sound. From a sweet-girl take on “Breathless” to feral seething in “The Hungry Wolf” (with a dynamic drum solo from Bonebrake, on top of his game all night), Cervenka showed off her charm and fury to full effect.
1983’s “The New World,” opening the encore, with its lyrics about false promises and disillusionment, sounded pretty poignant for 2017, where tumult is on the rise. The fact is, we probably need punk right now, as much or even more than we did decades ago. Thankfully X is not only still around, but still righteously loud and eloquent.
Zoom deserves a special tribute. The legendary guitarist recently beat cancer and while he now sits on a stool to play, it doesn’t diminish his role as catalyst for most X songs. A wonderful thing about Zoom is his famous grin, and if you happen to be on the receiving end, it’s a thrill. He picked up the saxophone on a couple songs, adding an unexpected slinky noir vibe. Before blowing Zoom licked his guitar pick and stuck it on his forehead for safekeeping. Because, duh, where else should he put it?
Notes on the opener: Oklahomans Kelly Mayo and Peyton Bighorse formed Skating Polly as kids in 2009 when Mayo’s father and Bighorse’s mother started dating. Since then the multi-instrumentalists have gained some impressive fans, and deservedly so based on their total control of the main room. Cervenka (who wore a Skating Polly shirt for X’s set) is a mentor and gave them the lyrics to a new song, “Queen for a Day” while Veruca Salt’s Louise Post and Nina Gordon collaborated with the band on an EP, “New Trick.”
Skating Polly also features drummer Kurtis Mayo, who paced the trio through their high-energy set, accompanying powerhouse vocals. Mayo’s voice is so flexible, ranging from squeak to scream (it sounds like a guitar string at times) while Bighorse howls with banshee-like force. They dedicated “Hail Mary” to local sheroes Babes in Toyland, one of their many influences.
The crowd: Mix of ages – a few folks probably went to X’s earliest shows, but plenty of younger attendees were on hand for a “punk rock 101.” Some brief slam dancing and beer spraying during “The Hungry Wolf,” but mostly everyone bounced in place.
Overheard in the crowd: Sing-along to The Clash’s “I Fought the Law” before the show.
Critic’s bias: I name my cars – an old blue Volvo sedan was “Exene.”
Random notebook dumps: Cervenka noted her sister was in the audience, making it a “special night.” She used her hands to make devil horns over her head, signaling the band to rev up “Devil Doll” for the encore. Mayo said she sat on Prince’s motorcycle replica from Purple Rain and “it was cool.”
Beyond and Back
In This House That I Call Home
Some Other Time
Because I Do
Come Back to Me
The World’s a Mess, It’s in My Kiss
The Hungry Wolf
I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not
Johnny Hit and Run Paulene
Motel Room in My Bed
The New World