X With Small Wigs At The Roxy, Friday December 30th 2016
Forty years is a long time to be doing anything, but this is how long X, the iconic LA punk band, has been making music, and to mark this impressive milestone the famous quartet had scheduled four successive nights at the Roxy. In Hollywood, where youth is so often celebrated for no good reason– this is not an accomplishment as would have said the late great Carrie Fisher – longevity should absolutely be honored. This is exactly what all these people had decided to do, crowding the West Hollywood night club four times in a row for some of them, as I did hear some people online talking about last night’s show and their plan for the next day.
With a different opening act for each of the four nights – I got to see Small Wigs, a very young band who was obviously thrilled to be on the same bill that the iconic band – X is still playing with the same line-up, and despite a few bumps on the road and in particular some serious health scares, vocalist Exene Cervenka, bassist and vocalist John Doe, lead guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer D.J. Bonebrake are still very much performing together, as if they were attempting to stop time forever. Some people may say punk should not be about nostalgia, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting to slow down the inexorable passing of time.
Small Wigs were young and loud, ferocious but playful, with a touch of surf guitar, a large dose of western influence and even a Cramps vibe on one or two tunes. I immediately recognized Max Kuehn on drums (he is FIDLAR’s drummer) but his brother Elvis Kuehn (also a member of FIDLAR) was on guitar and vocals and since he had long hair, this didn’t hit me right away. Small Wigs, may have branched out from FIDLAR, with the addition of Mikki Itzigsohn (of Isaac Rother and the Phantoms) on bass and Matt Zuk on guitar, but they still want to have plenty of fun in the most goofball kind of way. There were plenty of punch and happy boy-girl harmonies in their punk songs, they released a youthful energy all set-long, surely a X vibe in their most rockabilly songs, and while Mikki was asking us how we were doing with a funny voice, her western fringe shirt was there to remind us they were damn serious about their country roots… Now that FIDLAR is a big wig (didn’t they play the Palladium a few months ago?), I don’t blame the Kuehn brothers to try a smaller one on the side.
Beside the remarkable complicity and chemistry existing between John and Exene and the timeless quality of the music, the most remarkable thing you can notice at a X show is the great pleasure they have to play together. A few times during the show, I looked carefully at John Doe, who was just in front of me, and pure joy was pearling on his face, below the real sweat. On Friday night, the third night of their series of Roxy shows, they only played songs from their early 80’s four first albums, ‘Los Angeles’, ‘Wild Gift’, ‘Under the Big Black Sun’, and ‘More Fun in the New World’, which, of course, made people sing along almost non-stop, and the walls of the club boom of exuberant joy.
Attending a X show has always felt like running for your life, it has this fight-or-flight feeling, a sort of danger mixed with euphoria, an adrenaline rush going crescendo with their enduring signature harmonies, Billy Zoom’s rockabilly guitar and Bonebrake’s pounding drums, while Exene’s vocals always stay higher in the mix, backed up by John’s bluesy baritone. They started with a few of their ‘Wild Gift’ doomed love anthems, messing up with country and blues and making the crowd restlessly move while screaming for example, ‘In This House That I Call Home’. The energy got high right away, John Doe was moving back and forth and already sweating a rock show, while smiling Billy Zoom was sitting on a stool and not saying much during the entire show, while quietly providing all these memorable guitar riffs, and even a few saxophone licks during the doo-woppy ‘Come Back to Me’ and later on ‘I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts’. They temporarily slowed down a bit with the bluesy ‘The Unheard music’, but after their 50’s vintage ‘True Love’, they were back to full energy level during ‘The Hungry Wolf’, which offered us a jungle fever crashing drum solo followed by real howling, and from this point, it only got crescendo.
‘A new year tomorrow,…There’s always a new year’ said Exene before singing ‘Year 1’, and I just noticed she was wearing a WikiLeaks shirt below her denim shirt. But there was not one single allusion to politics all night long. ‘Big thanks to the people who came every night’, said Doe, ‘I was here every night’, added Exene, ‘What about me?’ As usual, she was the most talkative and the teaser of the band, while DJ Bonebrake calmly got behind the vibraphone for a nice touch during ‘I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts’.
I am not sure when it started to get really rowdy, I was standing slightly on the left side, safely avoiding the center of the room where people began to mosh and jump at some point, probably between ‘Los Angeles’ and ‘Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not’, reminding everybody that it was a punk show after all. But it was not really necessary, everyone knew these songs were definitively made to be sung at the top of each other’s lungs while Exene’s voice was landing somewhere in the middle of this apparent chaos. They ran through the rest of the set with more songs showing their multiple country-rock-blues influences from Chuck Berry, to Bo Diddley, Eddie Cochran and Jerry Lee Lewis, intertwined inside their cutthroat compositions, which can still resonate with danger for a late-night crowd at the eve of a new year. The band came back for an encore, hitting us with a few more bringing-down-the house songs, and songs like ‘Nausea’ or ‘Johnny Hit and Run Paulene’ with their darkness, violence and poetic chaos, sounded particularly appropriate to end this savage 2016 year.
Forget about nostalgia, it is a very difficult task to keep something fresh after 40 years, however there is still magic in X’s off-keys harmonies and blasting sound,… otherwise why would these people be flying or driving from San Diego and Portland to attend the 4 nights at the Roxy? New York may have had the Ramones, but X is the iconic punk band of LA, a band still standing on its four solid feet, and, beside the Rolling Stones, which other rock band can say the same thing?
Beyond and Back
In This House That I Call Home
Some Other Time
Sex and Dying in High Society
The Unheard music
Come Back to Me
The Hungry wolf
The World’s a Mess, it’s in My Kiss
When Our Love Passed Out On the Couch
Dancing with Tears in my Eyes
I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not
Johnny Hit and Run Paulene
Motel Room in My Bed
Because I Do