A good deal of branches on the punk family tree trace back to X. In fact, the seminal, Los Angeles-based band should receive a paycheck every time an act nowadays pairs meat-and-potatoes rock with a rollicking Gretsch guitar.
“I hear my daughter playing new bands and there’s some good ones,” said D.J. Bonebrake, the drummer for X. “There’s a lot of creativity. But it doesn’t seem that much different than what we did. It’s from the same stream.”
When X signed to Slash Records to release its 1980-debut, Los Angeles, West Coast punk was still an anomaly. Fellow California-based group Black Flag was still a year away from putting out Damaged, while the East already had a well-established scene in place, centered around New York’s CBGB club, where acts such as The Ramones, Television and Patti Smith were getting their first exposure.
But Los Angeles transcended geography because it was faster and heavier than anything that came before it. And as soon as Exene Cervenka’s iconic howl enters on opening track “Your Phone’s Off The Hook, But You’re Not,” sandwiched in between Billy Zoom’s razor-blade guitar riffs and Bonebrake’s epic pounding, it becomes apparent the album is unlike anything preceding it.
Now, more than 30 years removed from that initial release, X still has its original lineup intact. However, it’s been a challenge keeping audiences excited about the future. How can a veteran act, equipped with a prolific background of studio material, make its old songs sound less like relics and more like time-strengthened classics? Cutting a new record is certainly an option, yet Bonebrake attests that playing live is his first and only day job.
“We’re doing other things and raising families, and to take six months off to write a record and record is a lot of work and no one pays you to do that,” he said. “You know, ‘I’ll take six months off and make a record or paint a painting.’ That’s part of the problem there.”
If this is the case, when the band plays the 9:30 Club tonight as a stop on its Guitar Slingers Ball tour that it’s co-headlining with fellow punks The Reverend Horton Heat, it will be a fine retrospective gallery of such paintings, a celebration of a band that first blazed what has since become one of the more well-trod paths in musical history.
And according to Bonebrake, the group has only gotten tighter and fiercer with age.
“When we’re playing live, we have a spark,” he said. “There’s something that happens and it’s a really good band and some people say that we’re better now than when we were younger.”
X will play the 9:30 Club tonight. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35.