Live Review: X at Slim's, Friday Dec. 30
X at Slim's on Friday, Dec. 30
Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss
The Black Tibetans
Dec. 30th, 2011
Better than: Zander Schloss' acting in the cult film Repo Man.
Among the many reunited punk bands on tour this year, X is an anomaly. The group still has all four of its original members, and each commands attention and brings a unique element to the band. Yet they seem just as unlikely a gaggle of musicians to be clustered onstage now as they did in the 80's. Some 30 years after this L.A. punk legend's formation, the differences between its members have grown more intense. That they have maintained their character is endearing, but it also highlights, for some members, their decay.
Onstage at Slim's on Friday, John Doe's appearance reflected the neo-traditionalist country of Keeper, his solo album out this year. Sporting a western shirt and saddle shoes, a honky-tonk version of "We're Desperate" seemed likely, but didn't materialize. Retaining his melodic sensibilities and conviction from the early 80's, Doe delivered rousing versions of early tracks like "In This House That I Call Home" and "White Girl" that benefitted from the somber maturity his voice has accrued.
X's John Doe
Billy Zoom, clad in a black leather jacket with black boots and wranglers, was certainly the first member the audience must have noticed. He was absolutely magnetic, even creepy. His thin, blonde hair was perfectly brushed back and immobile, while his pale complexion revealed no flaws. In fact, he smiled incessantly and hardly moved at all. He alternated between two poses, with his either spread apart or brought closer together. With every turn of his head, he only raised his eyebrows. He was a relic from a wax museum, with a rich Gretsch guitar tone and an arsenal of sped-up rockabilly licks.
X's Billy Zoom
This schtick, an integral part of his performance for decades, has become an unfortunate show of contrived posturing. Whenever an audience member's smart phone jutted in front of him, he struck a pose for the camera, at one point even leaning down to check himself out on screen. Naturally, he raised his eyebrows and smiled approvingly. Granted, his solos were incendiary, particularly on tracks like "The New World" and "True Love," drawn from their fourth album, More Fun in the New World. But it felt like he had been degraded to a brand, complete with guitar strap and stainless steel ornaments displaying his name.
Near the middle of the set, Doe described the next song as another about the end of the world. I anticipated "Some Other Time," but at that point, I dreaded its arrival. Early in the set, it became evident that Exene Cervenka's vocals have deteriorated severely, and on tracks like "Some Other Time" and "Hungry Wolf," where her vocals provide the crucial melody, she didn't deliver. Her delivery was reduced to a series of dual-pitch grunts and completely lacked sustain. She didn't strive for a new technique to accommodate her shortcomings.
Still, Cervenka is a versatile artist. On material from her latest solo effort, The Excitement of Maybe, she pleasantly nestled into a vocal range and style within her ability. But classic X songs like "Los Angeles" fell flat. If songs could be rearranged or reworked to accommodate her, they weren't, with few exceptions, and she was left floundering.
One of those exceptions, during the encore, was an acoustic version of "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts," a protest song for skeptics, and the most eerie and provocative track from More Fun in the New World. This version was completely different from the original, and exemplified the effectiveness of rearranging. In the sparse, slower acoustic versions, Cervenka's quivering purr was given room to breathe. As soon as that clever rearrangement gave a glimpse of how the songs could be effectively adapted, the set was coming to a close.
Your Phone's Off the Hook
In This House That I Call Home
Beyond and Back
Some Other Time
Once Over Twice
The World's A Mess its In My Kiss
The New World
Back to the Base
Johnny Hit and Run Paulene
I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
We're Having Much More Fun
Openers Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss: An Americana duo featuring Schloss, former Circle Jerks bassist, playing dustbowl ditties on acoustic guitar while Wheeler stumbled around releasing a bar-stool howl. Between every single song, Wheeler referenced all the dead or imprisoned people he used to shoot heroin with, shouted out to long-defunct punk institutions, and dedicated songs to Southern California junkie punks he knew in the 80's with goofy nick names. Apparently, he hasn't done anything worth mentioning since the mid-80's, when The Cuckoo's Nest shut down, and now he's attempting a reinvention as a weak Tom Waits knock-off.