After nearly 30 years of taking its genre-defining punk, rock and pop to the world, X figured it was time to try something new.
Oh, don’t fret – the veteran West Coast band still possesses the same elemental, accessible charge that fueled such genre-defining albums as 1980’s Los Angeles and 1982’s Under the Big Black Sun. Also, the X that returns to The Dame tonight boasts the full original lineup of vocalist Exene Cervenka, vocalist/bassist John Doe, guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer D.J. Bonebrake.
So what could be new? The band is the same. The music remains blessedly unblemished. There hasn’t even been a new studio album from X since Hey Zeus! in 1993.
Well, the difference this summer is that X is delegating some of its set list responsibilities. In an exercise than many veteran bands have experimented with in recent years, X is letting its fans vote on the songs they want the band to play.
“I’ve heard about other bands taking requests through their websites,” Doe said in a recent phone interview. “They would wind up pulling out all these really obscure songs of their back catalog. We don’t have the time or interest to know all of our songs, so we just added about 15 songs to the set list we normally use and posted it. We take the top 28 songs or so that people vote for and play those.”
So far the five top vote-getters for the Dame show are the title tune to Los Angeles, Johnny Hit and Run Pauline, White Girl, When Our Love Passed Out on the Couch and Sex and Dying in High Society. Not surprisingly, all of those tunes come from X’s first two albums (Los Angeles and 1981’s Wild Gift). And that’s just fine by Doe. In recent years, with members balancing band duties with projects of their own, X has drawn exclusively on music from their first four albums for concerts. Those are the recordings, Doe said, that continue to define the band.
“That’s the music where we made our stamp, where we made our brand. Of all our records, the first four are the most original. Those are the ones where we really developed our style.”
Those records were also documents – postscripts might be a better term – of a vital, fruitful and ultimately brief scene that pervaded art and music in Los Angeles decades ago.
“I think everybody had a sense back then that something important was happening. But everyone was so busy being involved in it to really notice it. It was surprisingly short. I think any scene has a surprisingly short life – like, maybe, three or four years. Even by the end of 1980, it was like ‘Wow, this has really changed.’ But the scene was incredibly vital because of its social and cultural impact. Everybody involved made some sort of contribution to it, even if it was just through their personality.”
Doe said he does have a bit of a final say of the voter selected set lists. For starters, he selects the order in which the picks will be played onstage.
“If we did the songs in the order they were voted on, the setlists would be terrible. But it’s still difficult because sometimes people will choose a bunch of slow stuff. I don’t think that’s really a measure of the age or desire of an audience. It just sort of turns out that way.
“But when you’ve got songs voted on like Burning House of Love (which comes from X’s fifth album, 1985’s Ain’t Love Grand), Blue Spark, Adult Books and White Girl and all these sorts of slower things that I sing, it gets to be like, ‘We’ve got to do all of those in the same set?’ So I’ll only put maybe three of those on at the most. Also, if I see Soul Kitchen (a vintage Doors tune refashioned for Los Angeles that wonderfully reflects X’s early collaborations with Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek) hasn’t been voted on, I might put it in because, well, I need it.”
Doe also said he and Cervenka have been collaborating on what might become new X music. One of their new tunes, It Just Dawned On Me, made its way onto Country Club, Doe’s new country covers album with The Sadies.
“We’re still good,” Doe said of X. “Over time, you push a lot of your own pettiness aside. You start to realize what’s important and what kind of gift you have. I mean, a lot of the people coming to see us now weren’t even born when X started, so we’re grateful they get to see us.
“I know what that’s like. I wasn’t around when Chuck Berry was in his prime. But I saw him later, in ’72 or ’73. And he just blew my mind.”
X performs at 8 tonight at The Dame, 367 East Main. Steve Soto and the Twisted Hearts will open. Tickets are $20. Call (859) 231-7263.