Punk Band X Breaks Out the Vibraphone for Acoustic Tour

Guess which member of X plays the saxophone.
Guess which member of X plays the saxophone.
Frank Fargani

Members of the legendary punk band X will never "walk on down the road yelling hurry up" to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to be enshrined in its hallowed halls. It has never been their style to self-aggrandize, and yet while bands like the Clash, The Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie have all long since been immortalized with inclusion into the HOF, the time for X is long overdue.

Anti-establishment and anti-corporate, X lit the flame of West Coast punk rock in 1978, and went about the business of creating sonic sounds that were original, political, irreverent, and yet relevant. The band exuded an attitude and movement that was repulsed by the American underbelly of corporate record label greed, which promoted bloated rock guitar fat cats playing eight-minute guitar solos.

X opted for a more urgent sound that filled its three- to four-minute songs with disaffection and desperation, born of rockabilly, soul and country, and bathed in angst and street poetry the likes of Bukowski. Los Angeles' true fearsome foursome burst onto the scene with a music that was lean, mean, and populist first -- popular second.

See also: 10 Classic Punk Albums that Actually Kind of Suck

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And while major success eluded them, John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake put out seven studio albums over two decades, which helped pave the path for the likes of many other punk acts. They also were the tireless supporters of fellow L.A. bands, like such as Black Flag, Minutemen, DOA, and The Flesh Eaters, rather than climbing on top of others to make their way.

X was not a commercial success, despite having two four albums produced by ex-Doors keyboardist, the late Ray Manzarek, but the band was popular with critics.

And yet just two short months ago the band was asked to be the subject of a Q&A at the Rock HOF as a part of its Legends Series.

"That's one thing you get from not dying ... you become more grateful for awards and recognition, Doe, says sardonically. "You don't get a big head about it, but you're more accepting of it."

Cervenka seemingly agrees, and says their music is not created for corporate America, but for the fans.

"There is an elitist tone to music now more than ever, and I think those who make the corporations and themselves wealthy are rewarded with awards and accolades," says Cervenka, who was married to Doe from 1980 to 1985. "Fortunately for X and for me personally, we are rewarded almost every day by people of all ages telling us how much our music and what we stand for means to them. I am always happy to hear that."

Dr. Jason Hanley, who hosts the Rock HOF Legend Series in Cleveland, said that beyond the convenience of X playing in town for the week in September, the band had its impact.

"Inductees are our cornerstone of the museum. We also want to look at other artists and bands not inducted, but who are essential," Hanley explains, adding about X, "You can't really listen to that first album Los Angeles and not know they [X] were capturing what was going on at the time."

And while times have changed in some ways, in others popular culture still is attracted to a music in many ways that still has more emphasis on form rather than substance. Pseudo-punk emo bands dot the radio landscape, striving to recapture that '70s punk sound. X, who helped create that '70s punk sound, have also come full circle, and its original four members which have toured intermittently over the past two decades, are on the road once again.  

The band will be making its regular stop in Phoenix at the Crescent Ballroom December 7 with longtime L.A. rock brothers in arms, The Blasters, as a part of their annual X Family X-mas tour. Only this year, X will be playing going off the grid and playing acoustic over the course of the three-week 11-stop mini-tour.

"The sonic and visual impact of X [back in the day] detracted from some of the appreciation of songwriting or energy of playing," Doe explains. "We're not calling it something different; it's still X."

While the band may have taken the electric out of the equation, it has recruited veteran Alabama-native recording engineer-musician Michael Kilpatrick to the group tour to add more depth on guitar and drums. He actually began on the album-a-night tours X did a few months back.

Doe says the acoustic idea is allowing the band to re-imagine some songs, to revisit other songs, such as new versions of songs like "Beyond & Back," "The Unheard Music," "Hungry Wolf." It will allows X to play songs it never had previously been able to play in the live set, like "Come Back to Me," "Drunk in my Past," "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes," or "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts."

Will die-hard X fans be drawn in to a kinder, gentler version of their typically raucous, passionate and driving sound? Doe and Bonebrake think so.

"None of it is really acoustic," Doe is quick to note. "There is this sneaky, funky, and smoky quality that allows us to play with more finesse. And, it doesn't take itself too seriously. It's not like we're being pretentious about it. It's not about making people comfortable, it's more about digging it, you can follow the narrative with the song."

"We're not sacrificing the power of X, that's the cool thing," adds Bonebrake, who will get to put his vibraphone talents to use on the acoustic tour (Zoom will play his saxophone as well). "We're able to be more versatile playing songs we don't normally do. We're playing a little softer; if we want power it's still there. Some songs are more intimate, some are more rocking; to me it's the best of both worlds."

So if the Rock HOF never comes knocking on X's door, it won't matter because the band's music and impact is only unheard to those who have still yet to hear or get it, all these years later. For those who have heard it plugged in or unplugged it remains a powerful, enduring force and a cornerstone of original rock music.

X is scheduled to play Crescent Ballroom on Sunday, December 7.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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Crescent Ballroom

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Phoenix, AZ 85003

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