Seminal band X retains desperate edge at second Bowery Ballroom show

In the spirit of democracy—and perhaps staving off requests from drunken audience members—the pioneering Los Angeles punk group X has made its latest tour a request-only affair. The process is simple: Fans go online and vote for the songs they want to hear, and even if, in the estimation of singer and bassist John Doe, only about 20 people helped determine the set list for Saturday night’s performance at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom, the second show of a three-night run, it’s a novel way to shake things up.

Not that X needs gimmicks to justify its tours. Some three decades after forming, the quartet remains more than the mighty sum of its incongruous parts: a flashy ‘50s-influenced guitarist; a caterwauling, occasionally in-tune female singer; an ace drummer who digs complex rhythms and vibraphones; and a talented bassist, singer, and songwriter who holds it all together.

Here are four ways in which Saturday’s show proved more than a mere nostalgia trip:

1. Guitarist Billy Zoom: The man responsible for X’s distinct rockabilly flavor, Zoom (pictured) has a funny, if slightly creepy, way of connecting with the audience. Grinning constantly, sporting a black motorcycle jacket, blond pompadour, and orange Bob Barker tan, he scans the crowd, finds someone to make eye contact with, and offers a wink or eyebrow raise, seldom glancing at the fret board of his sparkly Gretsch guitar.

2. The people’s punky will: The top vote-getter for Saturday’s gig was “Los Angeles,” the title track from the band’s classic 1980 debut. No. 3 was “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline,” also from that album. Clearly, fans were jonesing for the band’s hard-edged early stuff, and they responded by forming a circular mosh pit in front of the stage.

3. “See How We Are”: The only tune not selected by online voters, “See How We Are” found Doe and co-lead singer Exene Cervenka harmonizing, in that inimitable way they do, over simple acoustic guitar chords. The song is about how Americans fall victim to apathy and consumerism, and although it was written more than 20 years ago, it remains relevant today, even in this era of new hope.

4. Still desperate: The members of X are no longer young bohemians living in cruddy LA apartments, but when they played “We’re Desperate,” from the 1981 “Wild Gift” album, they summoned an urgency driven by something else—middle age, perhaps?

Set list: “Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not,” “White Girl,” “Beyond & Back,” “Universal Corner,” “In This House that I Call Home,” “We’re Desperate,” “We’re Having Much More Fun,” “Hungry Wolf,” “Year 1,” “My Goodness,” “Poor Girl,” “The New World,” “Los Angeles,” “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline,” “Riding with Mary,” “Under the Big Black Sun,” “The Have Nots,” “Because I Do,” “Motel Room In My Bed,” “Devil Doll.” First Encore: “The Once Over Twice,” “Burning House of Love,” “The World’s a Mess; It’s in my Kiss.” Second Encore: “See How We Are,” “Some Other Time,” “Blue Spark,” “Soul Kitchen.”

— Kenneth Partridge

May 31, 2009 at 11:55 am | Share

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