It has been a great week for historic punk in the City of Dallas. U.K. pioneers The Damned brought their 40-year anniversary tour to the House of Blues, the Minutemen’s Mike Watt played Club DaDa, Dead Kennedy’s legend Jello Biafra spun records for KNON benefit at Three Links, and last night Los Angeles legends X played the Kessler. Among America’s first wave of punk, X is somewhat of an anomaly of the genre. While their punk roots and ethic are undeniable, they set themselves apart from most of their contemporaries by drawing on folk and rockabilly influences, and unmatched lyrical storytelling. Coming to Dallas on the final date of their month-long May tour, X is also celebrating 40-years as a band.
Houston’s John Egan opened the show with a half-hour set of bluesy Americana. Balancing delicate and percussive rhythms on his guitar, Egan has the quality of sounding greater than just one man. In fact, if you were at the bar and not paying attention, you would probably think someone was playing minimal drums behind him. Yet, he sits alone on stage and fills the room with his gentle, but full vocals and wonderful guitar work. Often wavering between country-ish folk and singer-songwriter categories, Egan has a particular quality of drawing from these familiar reference points and transcending them at the same time. I wasn’t familiar with his material until a few weeks leading up to this gig, but his latest release Magnolia City got added to my must-buy list a mere two songs into his brief set.
The Austin, Texas duo of Cathy Guthrie and Amy Nelson, better known as Folk Uke, followed with a terrific set that was as funny as their vocal harmonies are beautiful. Whether they were joking in deadpan about sleeping with the members of X to get on the tour or messing up one-note guitar solos, they effortlessly shifted into songs (that are often also lyrically funny) where their ukulele and acoustic guitar interplay perfectly compliment each other, as do their singing voices. The venue had begun to fill up considerably at this point and the crowd on hand thoroughly enjoyed their opening set. Disarming, infectious, and joyful, Folk Uke is a ton of fun. A word rarely applied to folk artists.
At 9:30pm, X took the stage to a roar from the crowd as they kicked into their set that drew heavily from their first four albums. There wasn’t a single moment in their set that the crowd didn’t respond enthusiastically as the original members of the band flawlessly executed each song with passion and energy. John Doe, switching between electric bass and acoustic guitar, was perhaps the most energetic as he roamed the stage and traded vocals with lead singer Exene Cervenka. Cervenka, often sipping from a red solo cup, was charming as always. Swaying her hips, waving her arms, and hitting all the right notes throughout the evening, she showed exactly why she’s earned a reputation as both a great vocalist and performer. Her presence was sublime, her voice was strong, and if you were there you couldn’t help but feel you were in the presence of greatness.
If there was anyone who stole the show, it would have to go to drummer DJ Bonebreak and guitarist Billy Zoom. Adding multi-instrumentalist Craig Packham to the fold allowed Bonebreak to switch over to vibraphone on select songs and Zoom to saxophone. Sticking his guitar pick to his forehead, Zoom’s sax work sounded beautiful in the acoustically stellar Kessler Theater. Likewise, Bonebreak’s vibraphone was tender and graceful, but perfectly balanced in the mix. While these stood out to me as the high points of the show, that shouldn’t indicate that anything else was sub par, in fact every song showed a band that was at the top of their game and had the benefit of 40-years of experience behind them. All of your favorite X songs are played, but it comes off as less of a nostalgia act and more as a group of four excellent musicians doing what they love.
X will be back on the road for select dates in July and August and nearly a full month worth of gigs in September. The hardcore fans will be there, but if you’re on the fence we highly recommend you check them out.
– J. Kevin Lynch