Three things not expected at a punk rock concert: A drum solo, a saxophone feature, and a vibraphone. All were heard during X’s uncommonly energetic hour-plus set in Skully’s Music-Diner last night. One of the crucial ’77 California bands, the original line-up of singer Exene Cervenka, singer/bassist John Doe, guitarist Billy Zoom, and drummer D.J. Bonebrake are touring in celebration of the group’s 40th anniversary.
The band’s first two albums are considered cornerstones of California’s contribution to the punk rock explosion of 1977.
Without a doubt, the punk spirit dominated the evening. The founding four created a fever only slightly less intense than in their heyday. If their set was less chaotic than it likely would have been back then, the dialogue built over decades of performing together and the unquestionable commitment to the music made for an inspired evening of rock-and-roll.
From the get-go the rhythm section killed it, laying down an intoxicating beat fashioned from rockabilly but delivered with bone-crushing punk simplicity. That Zoom sat during the set and moved very little didn’t compromise his ability to swing like mad, deliver classic Chuck Berry chords, and build the tunes with the bare essentials.
The group fairly erased the gulf between last night and all those years ago with full-tilt versions of staples including “Los Angeles” and “The Hungry Wolf.” Just to confirm that punk is still the quartet’s calling, it finished with punishing versions of “Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not,” “Johnny Hit And Run Paulene,” “Motel Room In My Bed,” and a manic reading of the Doors’ “Soul Kitchen.”
Still, “Wolf” included an extended drum solo from Bonebrake, which only lowered the set’s drama a bit. Zoom’s tenor sax on a couple tunes was soulful and also little distraction.
Taken on its own, “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” — which included enthusiastic backing vocals from opening act Skating Polly’s Kelli and Kurtis Mayo — was an ambitious elaboration of a terrific rock-and-roll tune. Its sentiment, Doe said, could serve as “a mantra for troubled times.” Bonebrake’s terrific improvisation on vibraphone was impressive even by jazz standards. Tony Gilkyson, who added guitar parts to several songs, filled in on drums. Doe called it the “jazz interlude.”
Which made the closing tunes hit all the harder.
It is hard to imagine a punk band doing a better job of moving musically forward while losing little of its original inspiration than X did last night.