POP MUSIC REVIEW : THIS NEW BAND SPELLS X-CITEMENT
“We’re Desperate,” X’s early, punk-flavored anthem of alienation, might have seemed like an appropriate keynote going into Tuesday night’s concert at the Palace.
The longtime heart and soul of the L.A. rock scene has been showing the symptoms of a band unraveling over the past year. Co-leaders John Doe and Exene Cervenka divorced, then X released its first critically disliked album, “Ain’t Love Grand.”
And just as Doe and Cervenka were becoming increasingly active in acting roles, X underwent its first personnel change, replacing guitarist Billy Zoom with ex-Blaster Dave Alvin.
On top of all that, this week’s shows weren’t especially timed to any momentum-forming activity--X hasn’t even begun recording its next album yet.
So what did we get at the Palace? Just another knockout punch from a band with an apparently inexhaustible reserve of determination. Instead of dissolution, all those danger signs added up to a musical renewal. There might even be a redefinition in the wings.
In addition, the special bond the group shares with its Los Angeles audience shows no sign of weakening. There might be a tendency to take X for granted after all this time, but ticket demand forced the addition of shows Wednesday and tonight, and the interplay between band and fans was as strong as ever.
The new lineup has played some local club dates, but this was the big Hollywood concert splash for the reconstituted X, which followed Alvin’s arrival with the recent addition of ex-Lone Justice guitarist Tony Gilkyson.
As a five-piece, X didn’t sound radically different from the old quartet. Both guitarists are steeped in American roots-rock styles, so their playing isn’t likely to steer X too far from its original rockabilly underpinnings.
The obvious new ingredient Tuesday was some old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll intensity and interplay in the show’s rave-up climaxes. The two guitarists give the band more instrumental maneuverability, but more important in the long run is the addition of Alvin’s songwriting voice to that of Doe and Cervenka.
The Alvin contribution X played Tuesday, presumably titled “Fourth of July,” is a saga of romantic missed connections whose rich sound suggested a more satisfying approach to the mainstream than the miscalculated metal of last year’s “Ain’t Love Grand” LP.
X all but disavowed that album in its set, playing only one of its songs. But for all the critical abuse and commercial apathy “Ain’t Love Grand” received, it did include some worthy songs that might be handsomely revived and revised by the new lineup. There’d be a bit more challenge in that than in another run-through of “Breathless.”
Still, the set’s mix of familiar material and strong new tunes added up to an irresistible show, marked by Doe’s loose, funny, friendly manner and X’s customary intense attack on everything from the early, punk-paced tunes to the more expansive material from the later albums. With Doe’s bass and D.J. Bonebrake’s drums acting like concussion bombs to clear the way for the voices and guitars, this band still grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go.