It's refreshing every so often to hear rock 'n' roll played without any ulterior motives.
No fortunes to seek or reputations to make, no causes to push, no opinions to share, no heavy emotional baggage to unload. Just get up and play for the fun of it.
That's pretty much what the Billy Zoom Band was up to Friday at Night Moves in Huntington Beach. Zoom, who had his share of acclaim as the original guitarist of X, the influential Los Angeles band, is content these days to be a part-time rocker, playing old roots-rock standards with no apparent careerist slant in mind.
Along with X's excellent drummer, D.J. Bonebrake, and bassist Ken Jacobs, Zoom delivered sharply played versions of oldies, as well as a few originals that could have passed for oldies, in a show that was about nothing except having a good time.
True to that good-time intent, Zoom called it quits early when his voice started giving him a bad time. From Zoom's point of view, it made no sense to keep soldiering on in the face of increasing hoarseness that was turning fun into labor, so he left after 36 minutes. But even in a truncated set, Zoom and his band gave the audience a good, bopping time.
In X, Zoom left the singing to others while wearing a Cheshire cat grin and revving up biting guitar parts befitting his name. Before his voice caved in at Night Moves, he proved to be a strong rockabilly singer, delivering the opening "Great Balls of Fire" with yelps and confident swagger and putting across his own "Bad Boy" with Elvis-style aplomb.
On guitar, Zoom set aside the savage edge of his days as an X-rated punk rocker in favor of clear, clean voicings and nimble, skittering licks. While he stuck to rockabilly guitar conventions, Zoom had a distinctive style on his silver Gretsch that went beyond mere replication of the past.
A bit of his X-style punch came through once, in a propulsive handling of the famous, stuttering, bassy intro riff to Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues." And if anyone missed hearing punk-injected playing from Zoom, such treats as the delicious throaty twang he supplied on an old instrumental ballad should have compensated.
The low-keyed Zoom wasn't one to imitate the animated stage personas of his early rock heroes, but a sense of fun came through in playful exchanges between the musicians--including some quick, jocular byplay between Zoom and Jacobs after Zoom had hit a clinker note.
Zoom did fall into a bit of '50s revivalist cool when he introduced a few songs by key--"this one's in A"--instead of by title. But the playing itself was sharp and zestful and it measured up to the band's stated goal of doing it for fun.