Being a life long fan of X, when the opportunity arose to see them in Hollywood on New Years Eve I couldn’t refuse. Born and raised in OC, I’ve seen X more times than I can count, but never in the town that so much of their music and mythology are shaped by and centered around. Saying goodbye to a year fraught with tension by getting immersed in songs that feel like old friends, full of complexity, passion, grit, and history, just like so many humans I love, felt like the best case scenario for a New Years Eve celebration, and a welcome time to finally see LA’s most infamous poets-turned-punks tear shit up in the city that started it all for them back in 1977.
After paying the valet $20 and remembering why I generally avoid Hollywood, my partner and I headed into The Roxy from the Rainbow’s parking lot, treading carefully on the damp cracked sidewalk littered with glitter, cigarette butts, and show fliers. After entering we grabbed a few $8 tall cans of Tecate, and descended into a leather and denim clad crowd comprised of greying men, rowdy punk kids, art grandmas, cool music nerds, and a few scattered hipsters. Everyone had cool jackets and even cooler hair and there was a bit of celebratory nervousness in the air.
People were definitely holding their space, defending it with every bit of psychic energy they could muster. Wishes of happy New Year penetrated the chatter, while couples took loads of selfies and dads threw back more than their share of tall boys, likely posing tougher than their day lives accommodate. The show was completely sold out which made the already cramped club feel even more intimate. Every square inch was shoulder to shoulder. I realized that maybe I was posing a little tougher than normal too, noticing that I may have packed the chip on my shoulder that I’ve left at home for years. There it was, striking up against others, some old and corroded, some shined up like diamonds. The Roxy was definitely the place to wear those rocks like fucking gems on NYE, while gleefully kicking 2016 into history, like a shitty old Buick off the side of a canyon in a '70s action movie, a burden flying flaming and heavy off into the ether, graduating from problem to memory.
Direct support for the night was Foo Fighters’ Chris Shiflett performing his solo material, which is yet to be released. People talked a lot during his set, including two weird weekend warrior businessmen behind me who relentlessly talked shit about someone’s undercut, revealing later they secretly wished they’d had the balls to have a mohawk at some more lawless moment of their life. Shiflett received mostly polite reactions until a woman wearing a fitted leather jacket drunkenly yelled from the right side of the floor “THIS ISN’T ALABAMA, THIS IS FUCKING LOS ANGELES” multiple times, which even if the band heard it I’m sure they just barreled through their Hollywood honky tonk set as steadfastly as possible. Most people enjoyed the set and bobbed their heads in approval, but mainly people took advantage of Shiflett’s set to solidify their chosen spot for X. Even if their twangy aesthetic wasn’t up my alley I had to respect their musicianship and gusto, throwing themselves to the wolves with reverence for diehard X fans attitude and brutal honesty probably wasn’t easy. Their songwriting was standard country CMT fare: glory stories of dudes driving around in a van, whiskey, women, and some feelings. But, the whole band was tight, Shiflett ripped the shit out of his Tele with bravado and gratitude, but their drummer stole the show with his 10-gallon hat and animated facial expressions boasting serious Nashville vibes: professional, solid, and dynamic.
As we awaited X’s arrival to the stage, I struck up a conversation with Michelle, a Los Angeles native I met standing dead center of the Roxy’s dance floor. I asked her what brought her out, and she told me how much she loves X, and how she navigated a tricky relationship in the 1980s between the very different worlds of punk and heavy metal that ruled Hollywood, spending nights at the Starwood and the Santa Monica Civic watching punk and hardcore bands with her crew of fearless friends, and jumping over to metal shows with their boyfriends. She remembered how hardcore kids would sneak razorblades into shows at the Starwood to hack off metal dudes hair, something we both agreed was mean but laughed at anyways. X’s music always stayed with Michelle, something I could relate to despite our generational differences. Our conversation was halted as the curtain rose and Billy Zoom’s signature guitar tone enveloped the audience, her parting words as she extended her soft wrapped, paralyzed right hand like a true bad ass: “If a pit starts, I better see you in here with me!”
X came out blazing on the last show of their 4-night residency at The Roxy and delivered a career spanning set of songs, including popular ones and deep cuts. The crowd remained strikingly collected, despite some light pogoing and dancing in sections of the floor. By the time X ripped into "We’re Desperate," a young man attempted to stage dive into the crowd of mostly punks over 40, but before he could get air two security guards took him down, disappearing into the darkness and proving that they refused to take any shit. X mixed in songs that they previously were not able to perform live the way they wanted to, such as "The Unheard Music" and "Dancing With Tears In My Eyes," John Doe switched to an acoustic bass for this segment of their set and DJ went to vibraphone while an honorary member of the band named Craig Peckham took over on drum duties. X put in the effort to make their set fresh and intentionally like a show instead of a smattering of hits, incorporating interpretive parts steeped in their Beyond Baroque poetry roots, such as an extended bridge during "Hungry Wolf" that started half acoustic, building up to DJ Bonebreak’s wild, dark thumping drum solo while Doe switched back to electric bass to kick the song into high gear. By the time all four members were back together, Doe and Exene Cervenka were freestyling harmony like spoken word, oohing and yowling, like a gritty Los Angeles interpretation of beat futurism.
Just before midnight, the band conferred for a moment about which song would be the last they played in 2016 that would take up the exact amount of time before a New Year countdown, their choice was fitting, "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts," a stripped down song written in the early '80s with poetic lyrics about the personal experience of living in a time ruled by political division, now driven by vibraphone. Before jumping into it, Doe said that New Years is a lot of pressure for him, and wished everyone a happy 2017, saying with hesitation that it was “going to be great.” To which Exene replied “its gotta get better than its been for a while, it cant get worse, can it?” To which some cute queer men near me screamed back “It can always get worse.”
The new year started on punk time for those in attendance, about a minute past midnight after the band finished their song and facilitated a countdown. As couples kissed and people chugged tall cans, John Doe threw confetti and the band fumbled their way through "Auld Lang Syne," known to most (including myself) as that song they play on New Years. Billy Zoom took a saxophone solo, and before you knew it we were in the future, and X was playing their breakout single "Los Angeles," complete with a small pit started by a young mohawked punk and my new friend Michelle, bouncing around, bandage in the air and full of joy. X continued past the brink of 2017, playing crowd pleasers that turned into full on sing alongs and ending with a three song encore after raucous cheers of “X” “Otra!” and “One More!” fell into each other between clapping and stomping.
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Revisiting so many of my favorite songs along with my partner whose unfamiliar with X’s complete catalog on the heels of my conversation with Michelle The 50 Year Old Bad Ass had me reflecting on how X’s music was woven into my life since before I could fully grasp its power. Their early 2000’s Dia de los Muertos shows at the Anaheim House of Blues were a yearly ritual for my tween rebel girl crew, each year a new chance to sport our punkest attire and slide our awkward bodies and disposable cameras as close to the barricade as possible, hoping to catch the traces of a decade we never knew but were inspired by nonetheless. I saw them when I was 21 and got so drunk I had to be driven home in the bed of my friends pick up truck, every bump on that rocky ride from Anaheim to Garden Grove prodding me to reevaluate my life. The Coach House show in 2012 was the last time I saw my old friend Karla Munoz, we reminisced about listening to X in her vintage car while smoking in the OCC parking lot as teens. Months later she tragically lost her life in a motorcycle accident on the 55 Freeway, I still kick myself for not taking the picture she wanted to snap before we were separated by a crowd forever.
From all the X tattoos, patches on jackets, and relentless singing along at The Roxy last night, I had the feeling that there were many others who had the lyrics to "Under The Big Black Sun" tattooed to the backs of their memories of youth, debauchery, tragedy, and growth, some just embarking on their journey and some closer to curtain call.
X’s New Years Eve show was thick with nostalgia, but not chained by it. And even though I was misgendered by a bouncer, and X didn’t play a few of my favorite tracks like "The Have Nots" or "True Love Part Two" (X’s quasi punk disco dance jam), I’ll still remember it as one of my favorite shows of 2016. And yes, a Los Angeles X crowd lived up to the hype, every bit as charming as they were sneering. What an honor to turn The Roxy into a punk rock road house for a night and ring in the new year with 450 other strangers with a taste for poetry, shitty beer, and great jackets.