X @ the Bluebird TheaterBy Ricardo Baca | March 26th, 2008 | No Comments »
Singer Exene Cervenka and guitarist Billy Zoom take their band X through a fast and heavy rock show at the Bluebird on Tuesday. Photos by Laurie Scavo.
Rock has many famous fronting duos. But there’s something about seeing a solid X show, watching John Doe and Exene Cervenka trade verses back and forth, that makes it obvious: They are the best-matched male-female fronting pair in rock history.
Everything about tall, lanky Doe complements the shorter, stouter Cervenka. His understated class, her on-the-table imperfections. His graceful aging, her latching onto a younger self.
They’re both great punk vocalists. And their voices were meant to be mashed up against one another, sloppily singing about “Los Angeles” or the obvious fact that “We’re Desperate.”
X played a heated love-in of a party at the Bluebird Theater on Tuesday. The venue was humid with sweat escaping from black leather jackets, and the sold-out audience gave the Los Angeles punk band a hero’s welcome.
One of the evening’s most low-key moments was actually a nail-biter for the band. Before laying into the bluesy “My Goodness,” Cervenka announced that they hadn’t played it for a very long time, and that they only recently reintroduced it to their sets. The song sounded fine, and it was a nice respite from the whirling, nonstop set.
Before launching into a note-perfect “The New World,” Doe encouraged people to, “Get out and vote in November.” The still-gangly Doe is the cool uncle you never had: The socially conscious, older gent who still acts like a kid and plays a ratty bass guitar in a legendary punk band, when he’s not touring the country playing his solo, acoustic work.
Seeing the band live isn’t only about the music. This quartet of aging rockers still manage to capture the spirit of punk rock and the energy of life in their performances –- something you wouldn’t necessarily think possible if you just ran into them on the street.
Cervenka is a Goddess with every half-spoken note and deep lean into the mic stand. Guitarist Billy Zoom has made a career out of that creepily ubiquitous smile, the perfectly combed-back hair, the guitar-pick-on-the-sweaty-forehead shtick and that far off look in his eyes, making him the Christopher Walken of punk rock. (Some swear he’s an alien.)
Drummer D.J. Bonebrake is the engine that keeps things running at full speed. His quick, between-song countdowns cut the nonsense, stage banter and tuning times. He makes things move. And if Cervenka is the heart of the group, Doe is the brains — the activist sweating through his button-up shirt and making you feel the music in your frontal lobe.
X shows are all about the moments. The band, which usually plays the much larger Ogden Theatre, seemed genuinely psyched with the initial ovation they received from the sold-out crowd at the Bluebird. Cervenka looked especially coifed, with a Pollyanna-punk dress and uncharacteristically curly hair.
About halfway through the show, Zoom embarked on a conversation — mid-song, mind you — with Bluebird bartender Kimmy Danner, who was watching one of her all-time favorite bands from the side of the stage on a rare night off. Her friends beamed. Her boyfriend laughed. And Danner blushed and cringed, even, as Zoom repeatedly returned to her with his signature smile and rock ’n’ roll whisperings.
Around the same time on the other side of the stage, Mayor John Hickenlooper popped up, sipping a beer and catching up with one of his favorite groups. Suddenly all the camera phones in the pit reoriented from Cervenka to Hick. But fans of Doe’s acoustic music weren’t surprised to see the Mayor there, as he’s also showed up at the Lion’s Lair for some of Doe’s solo performances there.
Ricardo Baca is The Denver Post’s pop music critic.
Laurie Scavo is a frequent contributor to Reverb.