X with LP3 and the Tragedy
A night with one of SoCal’s groundbreaking bands from the early ‘80s punk scene, X, together with band whose East Los Angeles roots run deep, seemed like a fine way for this gringa to celebrate Cinco de Mayo last Thursday.
The setting: the Day of the Dead-meets Moulin Rouge vibe of Alex’s Bar in Long Beach.
While waiting for the opener, I strike up a conversation with Pam Lewis-Nuñez, an attractive woman somewhere around the right side of forty. A quick glance around the room determines most of the people milling about are of the Gen X or older variety (with a smattering of a few Milleni-Olds like myself.)
Pam is here for X, formed in the late seventies, a band who rose to fame on the heels of their 1980 debut album Los Angeles, produced by a former member of The Doors. The album dropped in the thick of the Los Angeles punk scene. And it was indeed, a scene Pam says as she pulls up an old photo of herself in full blown New Wave hair. There were Mohawks, there were Mods on Vespas and everything in between.
X, fronted by former Weekly columnist Exene Cervenka along with bassist John Doe, guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer DJ Bonebrake are still playing together after 36 years. Pam is excited. Other people in the room look practically giddy. Back in the day, when X blew up, they blew up big.
Los Angeles became a critical darling, X made the rounds on David Letterman and American Bandstand. The album has since made numerous best of lists, including Rolling Stones’ top 500 albums.
But first, LP3 and the Tragedy takes the stage. Fronted by two cousins, both children of members of Los Lobos, the seminal East LA band that helped define the Chicano movement, LP3 and the Tragedy are celebrating the release of Southland Hum, their debut album.
Louie Perez III (lead vocals, guitar, harmonica) and his enigmatic cousin Ruby (bass, vocals) lead a tight band and like their fathers before them, their sound is a little country, a little roots Americana and a smidge of rockabilly set to fast punk beats. On stage, their sound is genuine and textural, perfect for a road trip to Joshua Tree. On the punkier side, Louie III has a raw scream, but the band never loses their melodic force on the harder-edged songs.
The room is now thick with forty and fifty somethings. A little hint of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly plays as one by one X takes the stage.
Exene, still has an adorable, cherubic face. She plops her purse down, takes a swig of her Modelo and the fun starts. Periodically, she musses up her brown hair with punky grey stripes and sticks a thumb in her Levi’s. “Hello” she says before launching into into high-pitched vocals, her voice, cutting above the driving beat.
Aside from their rockabilly vibe, X is known for its poetic, relevant lyrics. I can’t really make much of them out, but when I do, I like it. The first song is the fun, “Your Phone’s off the Hook but You’re Not.”
As the set burns on, the band becomes ageless. Even though Billy Zoom is seated on a stool, with a hint of a smile he rips through some intricate guitar work while remaining his usual calm and collect self.
John Doe’s bluesy rich voice blends with Exene’s as they both are invigorated by the crowd. Somewhere around the intoxicating “Breathless” Exene comes down into the crowd as They chant along and she ends up in the middle of it all.
And for a moment, it’s 1983 again.
They roll through a long set and after two encores finally leave the stage to rapturous applause. The old punk “scene” may be dead, but the art form is alive and well and much needed in this puzzling political climate. After all, what better soundtrack to have while bashing your Trump piñata?
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LP3 and the Tragedy:
When I Told U
City of Dreams
Search & Destroy
Phone's Off Your Phone's Off the Hook (But You're Not)
Beyond & Back
House I Call Him
World's a Mess
Who You Know
I'm Coming Over
Johnny Hit & Run Pauline
Because I Do