As novel as the idea seemed, the merging of the young, scrappy punk rock of X from the 1986 documentary “The Unheard Music” and the real, live, considerably older band into one event didn’t work as well as you’d think. Saturday night the appearance of the two in succession at Summit Music Hall proved that fact.
On their own, both played out well. But the proximity of the two inspired a few troubling things: constant comparison of “how they used to be” to “how they are now,” and a forfeit of the crowd’s attention span as the movie played.
“The Unheard Music” stands the test of time, and remains one of the more poignant and well-made documentaries of the burgeoning SoCal hardcore punk scene of the early ‘80s. Still, while it held a rapidly growing audience for the first 40 minutes, the second half of the show was an exercise in patience as part of the crowd tried to talk over the film and the other strained to listen and shot glaring stares at their increasingly loud neighbors.
When X did hit the stage, though, the ice was broken with a long, near-perfect performance. All members looked much older — it’s been 25 years since the film, and even then they’d already been playing together for the better part of a decade. But their furious, punkabilly energy belied any potential notion of “has been” for well over an hour.
They tore through all nine songs on “Los Angeles,” their debut record, in album order, and then followed with almost twice that many from their strong history. “White Girl” started a second half that included iconic tunes like “We’re Desperate,” “Blue Spark,” “The New World,” “Devil Doll” and more.
Billy Zoom played quick, fierce rockabilly-punk almost second-handedly, behind his famous maniacal grin, while D.J. Bonebrake pounded the drums and John Doe played the smart, punky bass behind the vocals that spawned his superstar life. In front and center, Exene Cervenka spun, shouted, danced and screamed her poetry like she hadn’t lost a day in the band’s near-three-decade history — despite her age. The set did end up winning over the crowd in the end — the energy and fury of X wouldn’t allow it to be any other way.
Lisa Higginbotham is a Denver photographer and a new contributor to Reverb.