X – Shim Sham (New Orleans, LA)
The Shim Sham’s gold lame curtains sometimes open to reveal the club’s risque revue of old-timey burlesque. But on this particular night, before an oversold crowd in the heart of the French Quarter, the glitzy drapes framed another kind of revival: vintage X in all its glory, complete with founding guitarist Billy Zoom.
Kicking off with “Soul Kitchen”, the band visibly shed two decades as they devoured the lion’s share of their first four albums (recently reissued on Rhino), hitting all the classics from “White Girl” to “Nausea”. And though most of the material was around twenty years old, it sounded as fresh as the day it first was minted and put Los Angeles on the map of the punkabilly avant garde.
Make that Zoomabilly. Though X owes its literate lyrics to John Doe and Exene Cervenka, whose off-center harmonizing can cut as close as a Bowie knife, it was Zoom’s channeling of Carl Perkins via Johnny Ramone that gave the group its musical edge. (Neither Dave Alvin nor Tony Gilkyson ever quite filled Billy’s blue suede shoes when he hung them up). And the fiftysomething Zoom has grown even cooler with age. Beaming beatifically beneath his trademark bleached-blonde pompadour, Zoom didn’t once break a sweat in biker leathers as he cranked out blistering riffs on his Gretsch Silver Jet. Just like the old days, he left the histrionics to his bandmates: Exene snaked her black-laced arms around the mike while DJ Bonebrake beat the drums into submission and John Doe drenched his shirt pumping the bass into overdrive.
Needless to say, the crowd went wild — so wild that at one point during “In This House That I Call Home”, overly enthusiastic pogo-ers nearly knocked over a P.A. speaker. (Doe saved the day by threatening to sing “warm and fuzzy folk songs.”) Throughout the nearly two-hour show, the mood remained so exuberant it almost felt like deja vu all over again: L.A. circa 1980, right in the midst of a bona fide people’s revolution. Zoom shot photos of the cheering throng at the end of the set while we loudly demanded an encore.
The band made us wait until our voices grew hoarse, then aimed its best shot directly at the White House. “This song keeps coming back ’cause history repeats itself,” Doe announced as they launched into “The New World”. Written during the depths of their disenchantment with Reagan’s America, it remains as relevant as ever in W’s America: “This was supposed to be the New World!” Hundreds of voices were raised in collective indignation as house lights illuminated the mosh pit.
X made us work even harder for the second encore, which they delivered in spades, tearing into “Hungry Wolf” like they were eating Dick Cheney alive. “We love you guys!” Doe shouted while Exene blew kisses and Billy Zoom blessed the fans by handing out guitar picks. Second that emotion. And thanks for keeping the faith.