The once-trailblazing Los Angeles quartet X has comfortably settled into its punk-oldies status. John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom, and D.J. Bonebrake are much older versions of the wiry, dangerous counterparts who glared from the back covers of their seminal, essential early-eighties albums. And the less said about Doe’s distracted-grandfather between-song banter on this CD and DVD the better. (“I encourage everyone to keep voting … keep hoping … keep hoping everyone’s okay.” Um, thanks.)
Fortunately for everyone, X still possesses one of the most formidable song books in rock. Live in Los Angeles, created from two shows the band played in Los Angeles in 2004, is clearly for X fans, not newcomers. But the already converted will marvel at how easy the band can still tap into the songs’ lean, dark power.
Zoom’s brand of punk guitar-playing has never been matched, and his reeling riffs and dizzying solos never fail to set the songs into the stratosphere here. Bonebrake, an underrated force, literally never misses a beat. Bassist/singer Doe, bad banter notwithstanding, looks like he just walked off a film set. Cervenka, ever the wild card with her discordant harmonies with ex-husband Doe, is still the spark and soul of the band. She more than anyone provides a vision, a caustic yet heartbroken look at societies and lovers facing ruin.
Given that the set list is comprised of some of the band’s greatest songs, it’s hard to pick highlights per se. Suffice it to say, “Blue Spark” and “Nausea” still stalk their way under my skin; the mournful social commentary of “The New World” is all too relevant, yet strangely empowering; and “Los Angeles” and “Johny Hit and Run Paulene” sound as relentless and frightening as ever. Of the handful of extras on the DVD, the undeniable highlight is a haunting acoustic rendition of “See How We Are” by Doe and Cervenka.