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Weekend Review | Pop

X Displays Its Punk Vitality

March 02, 1998|MARC WEINGARTEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Older bands with a punk pedigree usually have a tough time trying to pull off credible comebacks. Feel-good nostalgia is a tricky proposition when middle-aged artists attempt to resurrect music that craves brazen aggression, bratty insolence and a healthy disregard for the status quo--which is why the Sex Pistols' 1996 "Filthy Lucre" tour rang hollow. So how did X manage to pull off its reunion show at the Hollywood Palladium on Saturday without emitting even the faintest whiff of nostalgia?

Unlike so many other bands that came of age during the early-'80s punk movement, X never shirked adulthood; instead, the musicians embraced it. Songs such as "Blue Spark," "Your Phone's Off the Hook" and "The World's a Mess; It's in My Kiss" grapple with the complexities and pitfalls of everyday life and therefore have lost none of their emotional effect. Then there's the music itself, a tightly wound blend of rockabilly, country, garage rock and Billy Zoom's blazing, inventive guitar work.

All of which made X sound as timely and as relevant Saturday as it did when this incarnation of the band was playing the Hollywood club circuit nearly two decades ago. The performance exclusively focused on X's early punk era, before the band mutated into a respectable roots-rock outfit. Which meant that a high premium was placed on frenetic tempos, split-second timing and unbounded energy.

If anything, X sounds even better now. Zoom, bassist John Doe and drummer D.J. Bonebrake have all become more proficient players, and they delivered a sharp, visceral kick. Wearing a mock-diamond tiara, granny dress and brown cardigan, singer Exene Cervenkova effectively punched out phrases in her trademark forlorn wail, while her and Doe's distinctive vocal blend rang out sure and true.

It may be unreasonable to expect artists pushing middle age to continue to play music they wrote in their early 20s, but X's remarkable performance proved that great punk rock can age gracefully.

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