By Brett DelPorto
Say you are the best exemplars of a musical genre you helped invent 40 years ago. Because you’re a punker, you made your mark with songs that self-consciously rejected success and the creative inertia success often entails. Over the years, your music grows beyond its punk rock roots. You’ve been successful, but now you’re older and wouldn’t mind a little more recognition and a fatter paycheck.
What to do?
If you’re members of the band X, you just keep at it. Their determination to do what they do—and do it better any of their peers, better than any of the more successful imitators—was on display Friday at the Complex for a packed crowd, most of whom were old enough to remember the ground-breaking music X pioneered four decades ago.
“I just want to say this is the most fun I’ve had in Salt Lake City since we played at the Cow Palace,” said X vocalist Exene Cervenka, evoking cheers.
She presumably meant to say the “Dirt Palace,” the nickname for the now defunct Coliseum at the State Fairgrounds, a venue X rocked in 1984. I was there. I’ve been a fan of X since I first saw them in The Decline of Western Civilization, a documentary about the early punk rock scene in Los Angeles in the late ’70s and early ’80s. In the interim, I’ve been to every X show in Salt Lake City, including The Depot in August 2006; Club X-Scape in November 2002; the Palladium in Sugarhouse in 1986 (or maybe 1987?).
They never disappoint. If anything, they’ve gotten better. Guitarist Zoom (ne Tyson Kindell) is the core of the X sound, drawing on diverse musical resources from hard-driving punk to blues and country. Best known for his wide-legged stance and cheesecake smile, Zoom now sits during performances, presumably an accommodation to his age (he’s 67) or recurring bouts of bladder cancer. He was exceptional when cranking out the rolling-thunder riffs of “The Hungry Wolf,” but equally so on the rockabilly “Beyond and Back,” and the slow, brooding chords of “The Unheard Music.”
The diminutive Exene (whose real name, Christene, derives from her adaptation of the shorthand “Xmas”) is at center stage, crooning and keening, sometimes solo, but more often in duets with bassist John Doe (her X-husband). Their unusual, minor-key vocal harmonies are a staple of X’s music and particularly potent on “Blue Spark” and “The New World.”
Drummer D.J. Bonebrake (that’s his real name) is probably the band member who has grown the most musically. He is a competent drummer, showcased with a solo on “Hungry Wolf,” but has experimented over the years with the vibraphone. During previous shows, he unable to leave his drum kit long enough to shine. But during Friday’s show, relief drummer Craig Packham freed up Bonebrake to show his virtuosity on “The Unheard Music” and other X standards.
My only complaint is the venue. The hall at the Complex is twice as long as it is wide, which may have accounted for the deafening volume closer to the stage.
But that’s a quibble. The show was dynamic and powerful, a performance that shows X still rocks with same primal energy I saw 40 years ago at the “Cow” Palace. It is a shame that they never quite reached a broader audience. But playing arenas is really not in X’s DNA. Being a club band is less lucrative, but allows for intimacy that would be lost larger venues. They put on a hell of a show and I’d see them again in a heartbeat.