In the late seventies and early eighties, X emerged as the most prolific punk band on the West Coast. Their raucous rhythms, rebellious energy, and enigmatic lyrics cemented their reputation as raconteurs of the Los Angeles scene. Though they haven’t released new material since the mid-nineties, they’ve continued to tour with the original lineup for the last decade. By all accounts, they haven’t lost any of their rawness and realness despite divorce and disease and brief delusions.
Beginning Thursday, X will play four shows at City Winery, each night dedicated to one of their first four critically claimed LPs. Earlier this summer, they did the same at The Roxy, treating audiences to extended encores and a wide array of special guests, so while each night is certain to be worthy of witness, we’ve provided a handy guide to help show-goers decide which night to attend.
Since the band’s debut is also its most well-known record, their first night at City Winery is already sold out. But there’s a reason Los Angeles is so iconic: it’s a snapshot the gritty underbelly of the DIY culture in which the band came up, when they were playing shows at The Whisky a Go-Go and The Masque. The songs, in a way, read almost like a biography of the band’s discontent and diagrams the essential qualities that Billy Zoom and John Doe had in mind when forming X: Ramones-style irreverence in three glorious chords.
Classic Cuts: “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene,” “Los Angeles,” and “The World’s a Mess; It’s in My Kiss”
Who Should Go: Because these songs are so central to the band’s legacy, you’re likely to hear them at some point during encores later in the week. If you’re a diehard for dismal, bluesy deep cuts like “The Unheard Music” hit Stub-hub right now. Also, if you’re an L.A. transplant.
While Los Angeles was the vehicle that got X noticed, Wild Gift was their first huge critical success; Rolling Stone named it “Record of the Year” and it hit #2 on our Pazz & Jop Critics Poll for 1981. In a rave review, Robert Christgau noted the brilliant give-and-take between Exene Cervenka and John Doe’s enthralling counter-harmonies, musing “How often do we get a great love album and a great punk album in the same package?”
Classic Cuts: “The Once Over Twice,” “White Girl,” “Year 1”
Who Should Go: If you have a short attention span and attitude to spare, Wild Gift is your bread and butter. It’s a more condensed, explosive version of all the spitfire from their earliest years and finds the band solidly in their punk rock footing. Take a former lover you still have feelings for.
See also: Interview: Exene Cervenka of X
Before X ever released a record, they lost one of their biggest fans – Exene’s older sister Mirielle, who died in a car accident on her way to one of their shows. Much of the material on Under the Big Black Sun centers around Exene unpacking that heartbreak, and she has stated that it’s her favorite of the band’s catalogue. The LP was X’s first for Elektra and features tinges of protest folk and more introspective moments, making it particularly well-suited for the venue.
Classic Cuts: “Riding With Mary,” “Come Back to Me,” “Because I Do”
Who Should Go: The personal nature of this record could lend itself to some ultra-candid moments and emotional anecdotes, making it a must-see for obsessives of X mythology. It also has the potential for best-dressed crowd thanks to its rockabilly tinges.
Seeking the commercial success that eluded them for much of their career, More Fun is also more accessible, more pop-oriented, and more optimistic. That’s not to say that X sold out – they just lightened up a little and let their interest in the mainstream shine through. Their confidence allowed them to explore a wide array of new ideas and as a result, the record showcases X at their most eclectic.
Classic Cuts: “The New World,” “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts,” “True Love, Part II”
Who Should Go: The band’s fourth record makes the perfect soundtrack for a triumphant retrospective of the X’s career, and the atmosphere at City Winery is sure to be euphoric. Be prepared to get up out of your seat and sing along.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 19, 2014