Touring on their new album “Alphabetland”
Artist: “X” (Supporting artist “The English Beat”)
Date: July 17, 2023
Venue: The Depot
City: Salt Lake City, UT
There are legends, and then there are the legends that legends hang out listening to wishing they could just grasp what they are about. The Los Angeles band “X” are exactly one of the former, too many legends to mention point towards Legends “X”, just know it is a long list.
I got into “X” in 1987 when I moved to Salt Lake City, I became friends with a Hispanic Punk Rock chick (whose parents I found out later owned a cemetery and a funeral home, how goth), and her boyfriend was a Hispanic Punk-Rockabilly Cholo, a mix of Prince meets Buddy Holly. They were several years older than me, and they turned me on to so much great music, they swore by X. I walked home with several tapes, “Wild Gift”, “Under The Black Sun” and my fave “Ain’t Love Grand!”. Over the years I listened to X along with Dead Kennedys, Husker DU, Modern English, Joy Division, and even some Buddy Holly, with these friends I learned there was great depth to punk that no matter how hard you looked, you barely scratched the surface, I still feel that way coming up on age 50.
An important fact to this entire story is that the first time I ever got to see X live was in Hollywood, July 26th, 1993 on the “Hey Zeus” tour, with 808 State, opening for New Order, that was a clash of styles for sure. In 1993, I was right behind the sound booth at the Hollywood Bowl, and they sounded fantastic, they were great live, but for some reason, bootlegs, and “Live at the Whiskey”, had much better energy than that evening.
I saw them again a few months later in a more intimate venue, the energy was incredible, and I felt like I was hearing them the way I was meant to. (If you haven’t heard the “Live at the Whiskey a Go-Go on the Fabulous Sunset Strip” go score it,… You’re welcome).
Prior to the set I went backstage and got my album of “Ain’t Love Grand!” signed, I got to speak to Billy Zoom, Craig, and Exene. I thanked Billy for giving me a smile when I was shooting their show last summer with the Psychedelic Furs. He was polite and smiling and said: “Of course!!”. Exene didn’t remember opening for New Order at the Hollywood Bowl, she said “It must not have been a memorable night”. Well, it was for me.
The English Beat.
Well, we all know Dave Wakeling and The English Beat. I have seen them 22 times, and Bang once, so that is 23 shows of Dave Wakeling for me. They played a brief 35-minute set, with the hits, opening with “Rough Rider” and churning through with “Hands Off (She’s Mine)”. There is a certain amount of bantering you get with The Beat, and so much of the fun relies on “The Toaster” This time around it was veteran Antony, and a new cast of characters on drums, bass, keys, and this time I believe it was Dave Wakeling’s daughter taking the “assistant toaster” position, also doing percussion. I have to say, a woman’s voice was a welcomed change in the performance. His new crew are great musicians, and I wish them well on this tour. They all said they were just a few days into this tour, clearly, they were having a great time playing for us.
They played the staples and gave us “Tenderness” the General Public song that is always a pleasure to hear live. They were playing “Ranking Full Stop”, and without even blinking they switched to “Mirror In The Bathroom” to finish the evening. The Beat always delivers, you can expect nothing less than excellence from those guys.
While waiting in the photo pit, John Doe was just spending a lot of time getting his “X 1977” flag to hang exactly right on his rig. I stood in awe at his bass guitars, one of which looked almost like a flattened cello. I knew we were in for a great night.
A few minutes later the side curtain opened and the band took the stage, and kicked off “Water & Wine” in great form. Then we were already underway with “In This House, I Call Home” The venue was dancing up a storm, everyone was in a great mood, and the floor was shaking nicely. They were very tight and most of us in middle age just enjoying these great songs we grew up with, everyone knew the words to “Los Angeles”. Exene was dancing in her skirt and cowboy boots, while Billy was just sitting on his stool cranking out these fabulous guitar riffs, everything about this band and their performance was impressive, they were giving it to us as raw as if the last 30 years hadn’t happened yet, and they were just as excited to be playing these for us back then.
John Doe said “Good hell, on a Monday night, you guys are out like this!!!!”, he was impressed with the reception they were getting, everyone was feeding off each other. John Doe then said “So you know these songs, how about this one, I dare you, I DEFY YOU to sing this one with us, we haven’t played it till this tour, so this is probably the 4th time it has been played live”, and they gave us the new track “Smoke & Fiction”. (If you haven’t heard it yet, it’s a beauty, plenty of it on youtube already).
They were playing like the Ramones, they would finish one song, get 3 claps in then DJ taps his drumsticks 3 times, and they are off into “Poor Girl” or “Breathless”. As they invited us all to dance with them, they killed it with the cover of “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes” the Regent Club Orchestra cover.
Exene was dancing the entire time, sometimes as if the rest of us weren’t even there, she was in her zone enjoying the ability to dance to her songs. I noticed this time around, Exene had a very intense look on her face, she was very present, giving us everything she had, as she always does, but the “Goofy” or “giddy” fun expressions gave way to a stoic vibe this evening.
By the time they hit “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” the audience was well into the experience, THIS WAS “X” and we all knew how to dance. Billy Zoom was playing his sax, and it all seemed surreal as if we were transported back to a late 50s dance hall band cranking out some rockabilly. Billy is a man of many talents, and this song is a must for every X show. Watching Billy on his “Gretch” made all of this feel timeless.
With a few breaths between each song counting in, we maybe even got a “Thank You” from John and Exene, the band was giving us everything, song after song, “Beyond and Back”, “Free”, “Because I do” still sounding as if they were released last week, but still mixing up the vintage to current, and everything in between. X was keeping us on our toes not sticking to one phase or album, they just pulled from the catalog almost at random, and I was THRILLED with the setlist so far.
The iconic “Your Phone’s Off The Hook, But You’re Not” had me sort of laughing, reflecting on the fact that the technology that existed at the time this song was written gave its title some meaning. Nowadays, who has their phone “off the hook”? A strange historical shift happened for me during this song, and I did appreciate that the term could still be used today, even though its technology doesn’t exist anymore. During “Nausea” Billy was singing along without a mic, enjoying the song, cause, well, it’s a great song we all like singing that one. With “Sugarlight” and “Motel Room In My Bed” and somewhere Craig switching onto the drums while DJ went over to the xylophone to show his skills for a couple of songs, X on stage are continually proving themselves that the spirit of Punk began with, still exists in their performance. It was during this one that I realized X had created so many guitar riffs and songs that had been nicked so many times over the years, this one was the inspiration for “It’s Yer Money I’m After Baby” by The Wonder stuff. “If I were to list all the songs with bass and guitar lines stolen from X it would be several pages.” There were plenty of young people there too, though, unlike the last time they played SLC, this venue was sold out to the doors, and little or no room for the swing dancing we saw so much of last time. It was standing room only tonight, and we were limited to just swaying a little side to side, or jumping up and down. They gave us a cover from The Doors, “Soul Kitchen” that was very well done as they closed out the first part of the set. For the encore as John walked back on stage, he said again how much fun it was to play to a rowdy crowd on a Monday night, and thanked us all again for showing up like this (on a school night). They finished up the set with “Year 1” and no X show would be solid without the classic staple “The Hungry Wolf”. It was one of those songs we all wanted to hear and knew would be in the set, and a set like this, just mix it all up, we would have had just as much fun.
Giddy with the performance high, I spoke with the band after the show for a minute. John was showing me his custom-made cowboy boots, with an “X” carved into the leather. They looked great, on him… I joked with him that I just couldn’t wear cowboy boots. They never looked good on me, and I NEVER could wear them comfortably, and the best I could do was my combat boots from the Navy. Then John asked me about the soccer jersey I was wearing. I was surprised that he knew Leon Mexico. He said he was more into American clubs of the sport. Now this was surreal, I told him how I collect and have 233 jerseys, but only two American clubs. We could have talked soccer all night. It was just cool having an American musician notice something like that. I have had plenty of bands comment on whatever club I was wearing that night, but to get this from John Doe from X, really make the moment. I told him about the New Order gig at the Hollywood Bowl, and he remembered that night, he said: “Oh yeah, that was terrible”. His experience was similar to mine, they sounded great, but the energy of X is not for the side of a mountain when you can’t see them. The best way to experience X is a sold-out venue of 2000. (On a Monday night). A show this good you would think is once in a lifetime, until you realize they do it like this every night.