Seminal Los Angeles punk band X may never have scored the commercial success they so richly deserved, but their status as one of the most important and influential American rock groups of the past four decades is increasingly being acknowledged. Reunited with the full original lineup, X are out touring to celebrate their 40th anniversary, and this triumphant show transcended nostalgia by reminding us of the still-valid potency of their sound and vision.
The joint male/female vocal approach is commonplace now, but in punk's halcyon days, this was quite rare. It's still X's signature, with John Doe and Exene Cervenka trading off lead vocals as well as harmonizing. Both their voices remain in fine shape, and they're endearing frontpersons. It was a touch surprising that they didn't address the audience until six songs in, preferring to rip through favourites like "In This House That I Call Home" and "Breathless" first. As if sensing the audience was fully on their side, they then loosened up, with Cervenka being especially chatty — at one point, she gave a shout-out to the Subhumans and D.O.A., two Vancouver punk bands they shared stages with back in the day. She also thanked Toronto punk/garage rock veterans U.I.C. for their spirited and entertaining support set.
Musically, the band haven't lost a step, with drummer D.J. Bonebrake, guitarist Billy Zoom and bassist Doe at times locking down a thunderous groove (as on "Nausea") while remaining subtle and supple too. The major change visually was having Zoom play while seated, whereas in earlier days he was a commanding presence that would play rooted in one spot, with legs apart and a fixed grin. His licks were as fluent as ever, and he occasionally stood to play sax, while Bonebrake switched to vibes on some of the mellower tracks, replaced on the kit by Craig Packham.
Vibes and drums solos were less than riveting, but they did allow Doe and Cervenka to catch their breath. A couple of songs had a jazzy torchy vibe, while "True Love" was given a rootsier take. Such early X faves as "White Girl," "Los Angeles" and "Johnny Hit and Run Paulene" were reprised with genuine fervour, though it was a mite surprising that mid '80s gems "Burning House of Love" and "4th of July" didn't make the set list.
Any disgruntled voices were then stilled with the killer two encores, the still-timely "This Must Be The New World" ("It was better before they voted for what's his name") and "Devil Doll." Exiting the stage, Cervenka told the appreciative crowd, "We hope to come back some day." We hope so too.