X - Live in Grand Rapids (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Live in Grand Rapids (2014)

live show

September 8th, 2014 was an uncharacteristically busy Monday night in downtown Grand Rapids. The 300+ people who went to see LA art—punk legends X at The Pyramid Scheme had to compete with the 10K+ people going to see The Eagles at the nearby arena for parking. Some of us had to park in less than desirable areas, potentially risking life and limb. The inside of the club was a welcome, safe haven. There was a healthy crowd of 40+ year olds (on a school night) eagerly awaiting the return of X to GR after a 30 year absence.

Not In The Face, from Austin, TX, opened the show with a gritty set of straight—up rock and roll. They reminded me of a southern fried version of Gaslight Anthem. One highlight of their 45 minutes was when X singer Exene Cervenka joined them for a song. Another was their boogied up cover of David Bowie's "Suffragette City". The band was well received, even though they looked like extras from the movie Joe Dirt.

X took the stage a little after 10:00, and you could tell from the beginning that they were a well oiled machine. Drummer DJ Bonebrake seems to have aged the most gracefully of the four original members. He still pounds the crap out of his drums and doesn't seem to have lost a beat. John Doe still looks the part of the rock star, dressed in black and wearing his hair long. His bass playing was spot on, as was his signature deadpan vocal delivery. Billy Zoom makes playing the guitar look ridiculously easy. His feet barely move while his hands race up and down the neck. He looks like a math teacher, but plays like he made a deal with the devil.

Exene is the real enigma of the group. Her once jet black hair is now half black and half bleached. She wore a heavy black dress and boots. Her image was that of a punk rock witch. She closed her eyes and threw her head back when she sang in a way that was almost orgasmic. She sometimes seemed a little unsteady. When she spoke it was nearly incoherent, as opposed to John Doe, who worked the crowd masterfully. She clutched her whisky like it was mother's milk. The casualness of her bandmates would lead me to believe that this was pretty standard. Truthfully, her quirkiness was more endearing than off—putting.

Most importantly, Exene and the guys sounded great. The audience enjoyed the material from throughout their career, but got especially excited about the stuff from Los Angeles. The 35 year old album is an undisputed punk classic, and X played most of it. "Your Phone's Off The Hook, But You're Not", "Johnny Hit And Run Pauline", "Soul Kitchen", "Nausea", "Sugarlight" and "The World's A Mess; It's In My Kiss" all fired up the crowd. The strange combination of poetic lyrics and driving rhythm has served the band well. The real magic of X is in the blending of John and Exene's voices. The sum of this band is far greater than the (excellent) individual parts. The bottom line is that this was a fun show by a great group. It was a real treat to see X in such a small club. I also made it back to my car without incident, a major bonus.