When LA punks X released their debut album, Los Angeles, in 1980, you can bet they didn’t imagine they’d be playing it in full 34 years later at a swanky, all-seated Manhattan wine bar/restaurant. But that’s precisely what happens tonight. The first of four consecutive, chronological full-album gigs – where the band play one of their first four albums each night and where the cheapest ticket is $45 for a bar stool – tonight sees the seminal four-piece in their original line-up tackle their blistering debut, and then some.
X, Live in New York
Venue: City Winery, New York
Legendary LA punks take up temporary residency in Manhattan winebar
And yes, it’s an odd, incongruous venue – because even when played, three decades later, by a group of people in their 50s and 60s, Los Angeles sounds like it should be bouncing off the sweat-drenched walls and piss and puke covered floor of some tiny, trashy dive venue – yet the second that X launch into Your Phone’s Off The Hook, But You’re Not it’s almost as if their surroundings evaporate into nothingness. Almost. Everyone’s still seated and much older than they were in 1980, but the energy and the intent is there.
It’s present in the band’s fiery performance, too – a true joy to witness to given that frontwoman Exene Cervenka was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2009 – and they charge through the record as if they'd written it just yesterday, as raw and roughshod as it should be. Nausea is full of forceful self-loathing and venom, while both Los Angeles and The Unheard Music are devilish, brash and uncompromising. The whole performance is dedicated to The Doors' Ray Manzarek, who produced the album, something which makes Soul Kitchen, their cover of the band's song from that album, all the more poignant. Yet it's final The World’s A Mess; It’s In My Kiss that truly bursts and blooms with the spirit in which it was made, with Cervenka – albeit slowly and with a little help – clambering onto the furniture of the people right at the front for the song’s duration. And then it's done, that first album's nine songs and 28 minutes resurrected and reburied.
Were that all, even the most devoted fans would have surely felt a little cheated, but it's not. After a short intermission, the band return to the stage and play another 13 songs. Surprisingly, given they’re playing it in full the next day, there are quite a few from Wild Gift, including the ferocious bombast of Year 1 and playful rollick of In This House That I Call Home. There’s also the countrified jangle of Huddie Ledbetter’s Dancing With Tears In my Eyes and the sinister snarl of The Hungry Wolf – both from Under The Big Black Sun – which creeps and snarls like its namesake, kicking off the non-album set with fun and force. By the time the band are coaxed out for an encore, the place is a whole lot more relaxed. People break rank, leaving their allocated tables to stand near the stage. As Because I Do brings the evening to a close with a blast of jittery nerves and noise, it’s already clear that no matter where they’re playing, X are just as important and empowered and full of integrity as ever.