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Concert Review: X, Bluebird Theater, Denver, April 14, 2009

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Legendary Los Angeles punk rock band X is urging folks to get out and vote – for them. Or, more specifically, for their music.

The seemingly tireless original lineup of John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom and DJ Bonebrake went back on the road in April to bring the “Total Request Live Tour” to the American people.

Recent stops included April 14-15 shows at the Bluebird Theater in Denver and they were wrapping up the month April 19 at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif.

They’ll work on some side projects (John and Exene were set to appear April 25 at the sold-out Getty Center in Los Angeles for an acoustic show titled “See How We Are,” the name of one of their most touching songs) before resuming the TRL tour on the East Coast in late May.

X vote logo The concept behind the TRL tour is to allow fans of the band, which formed in 1977, to help select the setlist on any given night by voting at their Web site, xtheband.com.

The first night in Denver was certainly a success, where the political theme continued when they were introduced by Mayor John Hickenlooper, who called them “the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band of all time.”

Following a workmanlike performance by Steve Soto and the Twisted Hearts, X tore through 19 songs in an hour, then returned for three more during the encore. After opening with “The Once Over Twice,” their set included five of the top vote-getters in the poll, led by “Johny Hit and Run Paulene.”

Doe, wearing jeans, cowboy boots and a cowboy shirt with “Vigilante” emblazoned on the back, seemed the happiest to be back with the band again. The bass player, who traded off vocal duties with ex-wife Cervenka throughout the 75-minute set, worked up a sweat while leading hard-driving drummer Bonebrake on a thunderous charge during the 1-2 punch of “Los Angeles” and “Hungry Wolf” that re-energized the show near the midway point.

Other highlights included Zoom’s rockabilly licks on “Breathless,” and his phenomenal solo that saved “The Unheard Music,” a dreary selection off the 1980 debut album Los Angeles that Doe announced was being played for the first time on this particular tour. Tried-and-true gems such as “We’re Desperate,” “White Girl,” “How I (Learned My Lesson),” “True Love” and the Doors’ “Soul Kitchen” kept the packed house moving forward, with many in the general admission crowd jockeying for position in front of the stage.Along with the hits came some misses, though. Two of the first six songs were plagued by false starts, causing Doe to remark, “This is a rare occurrence. We continue to (bleep) up so you’ll love us even more.”

And while Cervenka (pictured below) has always been a passionate, edgy poet and powerful performer, her shared and sometimes intricate vocals with the more traditional-sounding Doe leave a lot to be desired today. Wearing a dark sweater over a prim-and-proper black dress, she also gave off the vibe of a manic schoolmarm, her shocking red lipstick matching a flaming moptop.

Zoom, looking sharp in a black leather jacket and more and more like actor Christopher Walken, was his charming self throughout most of the concert, posing for cell-phone photosExene Cervenka while flashing that ever-present grin and playfully interacting with roadies and stagehands. But near the end of the show he seemed to lose interest, basically going through the motions while standing to the far left of the stage.

Camaraderie among Zoom and the other band members was nonexistent, and he exited the stage without as much as a smile or a word for them or the audience.

John Doe Meanwhile, Doe (left) remained grateful and gracious. He thanked the mayor for his appearance and was the last performer standing onstage after “Devil Doll” closed the show. He hoisted one fist in the air, then bumped fists with some brave fans, one of whom had earlier reached out to grab the neck of Doe’s guitar during the finale.

Doe just smiled and banged on the bass some more. He has achieved the most commercial success of anyone from X, maintaining a steady acting career (Great Balls of Fire!, Boogie Nights, TV’s Roswell) while continuing a solid run as a recording artist (including more melodic duets with such singers as Neko Case and Kathleen Edwards). Yet he still manages to represent the working class through his songs.

No wonder, then, on this night and undoubtedly so many others, he’s the People’s Choice.

Extras, credits
• For X news, song clips, concert dates and more, go to their Website or MySpace page.
• The soundtrack to the HBO series True Blood, to be released May 19, includes Doe's "The Golden State" off his great solo album A Year in the Wildnerness, and the song will be featured on the series' second season, which begins June 14. Country Club, his latest album recorded with The Sadies, was released April 14.

Concert photos by Matthew Bialas.

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  • melanie

    Thanks for the excellent review, Michael. The band, like many of us, may be aging, but at least they’re trying something new on this tour with the interactive voting. They’ve got my vote.