Punk has never been less punk than in 2002….an era where Jimmy Eat World and Blink-182 demonstrate that the smiling locust swarm known as the free market will gleefully consume any youth rebellion. Mercifully, Joey Ramone was spared the sight of the prettiest girl at the party, Avril Lavigne (whom all the heroin in the world could not make hardcore) wearing a sneer and a studded wristband. What a weird and weirdly appropos time for the return of X, perhaps the greatest of the American rock and roll bands to come out of punk. They grasped what few punk bands understood after the seventies: punk as rock and roll transcends the sum of it’s parts (noise, speed, passion, attitude) far better than punk as just punk. This is why the Clash and Joy Division will never be forgotten but the Exploited and almost all hardcore bands deserve to be. X, a four-piece from LA, had their heyday two decades ago, and like Husker Du and the Replacements after them failed to convert fervent underground and critical enthusiasm into any hits. But as far as underground legends go, they rule the roost.
Vocalists John Doe and Exene have signature harmonies and call-and-response lines that to me are the best singing of any punk rock band ever, period (the Pixies used the same approach to good effect in the late 1980’s, and I can’t help but wonder what punk rock could have been had people tried harder to do something original.) John Doe, as a singer, songwriter, and bass playing talent, has no equal in his genre of high-octane intense maximum rock and roll. Guitarist Billy Zoom played like Chuck Berry on 10 cups of coffee, and though he played not a note out of place, next to John Doe’s superb bass runs he seemed solid but uninventive. X got as much infectious energy as possible out of Zoom’s rootsy riffs…but what took the band to greatness was those pleading, haunting, urgent harmonies. Over the years I’ve caught shows by many bands that came out of American punk rock including the Replacements, Bad Brains, Circle Jerks, the Cramps, and the Pixies, and only the latter were better at providing rock and roll excitement.