The lineup Friday at the Universal Amphitheatre was one of the more inspired teamings in recent years: sizzling contemporary local heroes X and Firehose on the top and bottom of the bill, with rock legend Jerry Lee Lewis sandwiched in between.
And, if the old and new generations of rock never got together on stage the way some fans were secretly hoping (Lewis didn't even do "Breathless," and by the time X launched into its remake of Jerry Lee's '58 hit, the Killer had "left the building," according to singer John Doe), the three acts still managed individually and collectively to cover about 95% or so of all that was and is great about rock 'n' roll.
And even in the midst of all that talent, the evening's highlight was actually an unbilled fourth act: the Knitters.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday December 16, 1987 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 6 Column 5 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
Bass player Jonny Ray Bartel, who performed with X at the Universal Amphitheatre, was misidentified in a Calendar review of the concert on Monday.
It's no secret that X, which once played speed-punk songs almost exclusively, has slowed down the pace of most of its new, more mainstream material in recent years. As the Knitters--a mostly acoustic country-folk alter-ego that interrupted X's set for five songs--the pace really gets slowed down, and quite satisfyingly so.
Joined by stand-up bassist Johnny Whiteside, the group went acoustic mid-set and again at the very end with songs from George Jones ("There Sits the Glass") and Woody Guthrie (the closing "So Long, It's Been Good to Know You") as well as originals.
The Knitters' set-within-a-set also featured co-lead singer Exene Cervenka debuting a hilariously derisive ditty about Fort Lauderdale (with lyrics like "Not enough brains to go around / But there's plenty of bodies in the skin deep town"), and patting her very pregnant belly while singing a line about her "hourglass figure" during a charming duet with Doe on "I've Got Something to Brag About in You."
In other moments, the X set more closely resembled the kind of breathless sweat-fest that the group's concerts used to be, albeit with matured songwriting and improved Doe/Cervenka harmonies (and guitarist Tony Gilkyson adding a slightly more metallic slant than ex-X-ster Billy Zoom's neo-rockabilly licks). Still, the best true X song of the evening wasn't a barnstormer but the folkish title cut from the recent album "See How We Are," slow and gorgeous and not at all breathless.
Nothing too slow or timely in Lewis' rollicking set except his version of "Help Me Make It Through the Night," which, like all the other songs, included countless third-person references ("Jerry Lee Lewis can't stand to be alone / Why don't you help old Killer make it through the night?"). Other than that, it was the classic fast oldies with the classic roll-the-elbow-up-'n'-down-the-ivories, sit-on-the-keys piano solos.
Reaction from the youngish crowd was positively thunderous throughout Lewis' set, though he offered little indication that this was any different to him from any of his Palomino club gigs--except perhaps in his hiring of ex-Stray Cat Brian Setzer as guest guitarist. It was the usual uneven but fascinating Lewis show, replete with between-song commentary on how he thought individual band members were playing and up-to-the-minute asides about his latest marriage and personal life. . . .
"Lewis is my name, money is my game, women is my fame . . . Merry Christmas." And to all a good night!