Fun Fun Fun Fest’s Black Stage: X, the Sword and much more
These days it’s hard to imagine any sort of entertainment or cultural happening in Los Angeles unfolding in the shadows, but that was mostly the case for the punk band X and most of its late-’70s contemporaries.
While the Sex Pistols and the Damned grabbed headlines and TV cameras in the U.K. and the Ramones and Television led the charge in New York City, southern California bands like the Germs, the Weirdos, the Dickies and more were playing short, fast, confrontational shows at clubs and warehouses where they were ignored, kicked out or hassled by authorities from the start.
“We didn’t get all the big attention like they did in New York and London, but when there’s a scene, people make things happen because there’s no other choice,” recalls DJ Bonebrake, the longtime drummer for X, who headline Fun Fun Fun Fest’s Black Stage on Friday night.
“All the scenes were happening simultaneously but we were ignored for years and no one could get a (record) contract because there was a stigma surrounding all the punk rock bands and this thinking of ‘Don’t let them in the studio because they’ll destroy everything.’”
All that waiting and hoping meant that when the L.A.-centric ’zine Slash stepped up to help X release “Los Angeles,” its debut album, in 1980 the band had close to two dozen sharply crafted songs ready to go, with the final product standing as one of the best punk albums of all time.
Produced by Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, the album is a nine-song, 28-minute blur that has seeds of rockabilly spirit mixed amongst guitarist Billy Zoom’s urgent guitar and barbed guy/girl vocals from short-lived couple John Doe and Exene Cervenka. The foursome will play the album in its entirety on Friday during an hourlong set that will feature songs from other albums like “Wild Gift” and “Ain’t Love Grand.”
This year’s set at Fun Fun Fun Fest is a makeup engagement after the band had to cancel its 2011 appearance to do a support run opening up for Pearl Jam in South America.
Bonebrake said the ongoing popularity of the debut album has made playing it live in its entirety an attractive option for the band, which logs about 60 shows a year around assorted other projects for its various members.
“It’s pretty amazing that it’s held up by so many people but by the time we recorded it we’d been playing those songs and working on them for three years and it all came together so fast,” he said. “I don’t listen to my own albums, but if we’re doing the whole thing I’ll check back on the structure of something like ‘Sex And Dying In High Society’ because there’s a weird two-count off the choruses that I have to make sure I get. I just love playing those songs like ‘The World’s A Mess; It’s In My Kiss’ because it’s so anthemic.”
Away from their time on stage as X the various members stay busy. Doe has a solid career as a solo performer and occasional actor, while Cervenka has returned to good health after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2009.
Bonebrake has juggled an assortment of projects since X’s heyday, the most recent being the Stripminers, a restrained and moody project featuring former Donnas singer Brett Anderson that released an album in September.
The variety of high-profile gigs with X versus the challenge of venturing out with a new, unproven band is something Bonebrake said he enjoys. After all, he’s used to no one paying much attention at first.
“You can’t get into something new with the mindset of ‘What does this pay?’ because you have to just keep taking chances,” he said. “It’s as hard out there as it ever was and now there’s even more competition, but we’re all professional musicians giving it the old college try and hoping, just maybe, that people will like it.”
X performs at 8 p.m. Friday on the Black Stage.
Black Stage highlights