with Frank Black & the Catholics
The House of Blues, West Hollywood, CA • June 24, 1999
Before the X show I was standing outside the House of Blues with Heidi, a guitarist for a local L.A. band called — get ready for this — Antidisestablishmentarianism. To date they’ve only played one show, at the end of which they were handed a three hundred dollar bill for a broken microphone. They’re trying to dig up the money, but for the moment Antidisestablishmentarianism is on hiatus while they plan their next move. As Heidi was rattling out a long story about meeting Ozzy Osbourne’s wife the other day, she stopped in mid-sentence and whispered, “Look, there’s the drummer.” For a second or two, I looked right past the approaching D.J. Bonebrake, my eyes trying to find a younger guy without all the gray hair. Then it hit me that standing in front of us was, in fact, the two-decades-later incarnation of the same guy feeding that cat on the back of Wild Gift . It’s been a long time.
X came out to thunderous applause for the first of four sold-out nights at the Sunset Boulevard House of Blues (not too far from their old Whiskey A Go-Go stomping grounds). With the return of original guitarist Billy Zoom to the lineup, the night’s focus was exclusively on the band’s earlier (nothing past 1983’s More Fun in the New World ) material; the later-period country-flavored tunes were nowhere to be found. They opened with a blistering version of “The Once Over Twice,” quickly proving to the crowd of both young and not-that-young-anymore that they’ve still got the goods. They then broke into “In This House That I Call Home” before pausing to say hello to their enthusiastic hometown crowd. With the exception of Mr. Bonebrake’s hair, they all look pretty much the same as they used to; Exene decked out in her trademark thrift-store garb (wearing a sherrif’s badge on each side of her black sweater) and John Doe and Billy each sporting too-cool retro threads and smiling at the girls.
After banging out popular favorites “I’m Coming Over” and “White Girl,” Mr. Doe introduced the next tune as “an audience participation number,” adding “it’s not too hard, you’ll figure it out,” and the band charged into the hard-rocking rockabilly-meets-punk classic, “Hungry Wolf.” They followed with a performance of “We’re Desperate” that seemed as relevant in 1999 as it ever did to most in attendance. The “my whole fucking life is a wreck” line wailed out into the crowd by Ms. Cervenka on her hands and knees was particularly well-received. Through the next few songs, “Adult Books,” “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline,” and “The World’s a Mess; It’s in My Kiss,” X continued to remind us that times may have changed since these songs were first recorded, but the fact that L.A. is still a shithole hasn’t.
Throughout the night, John and Exene’s banter amongst themselves and with the crowd ran the gamut from Y2K talk to Natalie Merchant impressions to funny observations on world music and how if you’re over thirty you’re supposed to love it. The audience loved it all.
With “The New World,” “Blue Spark,” “Breathless,” and “True Love,” they continued to reel off one perfectly executed X classic after another. They seemed to have all the energy they had in their heyday of the late-Seventies and early-to-mid Eighties. Perhaps a little more. They closed their set with a lively, rockin’ version of their classic hangover song, “Nausea,” followed by rough-and-tumble renditions of “Los Angeles” and “Soul Kitchen.” The band treated the screaming fans to three encores featuring six more songs that included “I’m Coming Over,” “Motel Room in My Bed,” and “Because I Do.” The night’s final song was their just-for-fun cover of “Wild Thing.”
When Zoom left the band in 1985 the X carried on with ex-Lone Justice guitarist Tony Gilkyson. They continued releasing music in the nineties with 1993’s underappreciated Hey Zeus! and 1995’s live CD, Unclogged . In 1997, Elektra Entertainment released the comprehensive Beyond and Back anthology (worth buying if only for the photo of them playing on American Bandstand ). It was around that time that Zoom reunited with his former band mates and joined them to cover the Doors’ “Crystal Ship” for 1998’s X-Files movie.
Opening the show was Frank Black, who greeted the audience by announcing “I’m Zirkseet Torres and we’re the Shitty Beatles.” He and his band, the Catholics, burned through their sixteen-song opening set with a real confidence that was fun to watch. Getting Black to open the show was a real coup; he’s always terrific live and the set, heavy on material from two solid albums released over the past eight months (1998’s Frank Black and the Catholics and the new Pistolero ), worked the crowd up to just the right level for X. Standouts were “So. Bay,” “All My Ghosts,” and “Western Star.” His experiment with performing Pixies songs in concert seems to have come to an end; the night’s songs were all pulled from Black’s five post-Pixies CDs.