I had one special date circled this holiday season. No, it wasn’t the company white elephant party or The Nutcracker at the senior center. It was influential punk rock legends X coming to town for two shows to end their now traditional West Coast December mini tour. Last year’s San Diego show had been canceled at the last minute; I was literally in my car headed to that show when I received the dreaded “canceled due to COVID” news. Monday’s show at the Belly Up Tavern (technically in the cool suburb beach town of Solana Beach) proved to be well worth the wait as X put on a wildly energetic show the sold-out crowd won’t soon forget.
BELLY UP TAVERN
San Diego, California
December 19th & 20th, 2022
Standing in line waiting for doors to open, I had the pleasure of meeting several long-time loyal X fans. One super fan, Mike from San Clemente, proudly sported a prominent X arm tattoo. Like Mike, several fans I spoke with had seen X perform back in their glory days as the band’s unique blend of rockabilly, country, and punk took the early ‘80s Los Angeles music scene by storm. Everyone was well-aware how rare and special it was that all four original X members continue to actively tour – a true delight for both longtime and new X fans.
Opening the night’s festivities was the instrumental band Los Straightjackets – oh man, these guys were great! Imagine four guys dressed in all black, playing a nice mix of dual guitar originals and cover tunes in an instrumental surf rock style ala The Ventures. Oh, and they also wear Mexican wrestling masks! Instilling much humor into their set, Los Straightjackets whipped up the crowd with their jamming upbeat takes on “Linus and Lucy” (the “Peanuts” tune), “Theme from Magnificent Seven,” a killer version of “Venus,” and a perfect surf rendition of “Sleigh Ride” that lifted the audience into a great holiday mood.
X co-singers Exene Cervenka and John Doe both praised Los Straightjackets from the stage, with Doe proclaiming, “I’ve never seen an audience with more smiles than I do when Los Straightjackets are playing!”
Now for the main event as the packed house was reeeeaaaaady to rummmmmble (I’m in a Mexican wrestling theme mood for some reason)!
X took the Belly Up stage, blasting into the upbeat “Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not” from their classic 1980 debut album “Los Angeles.” Legendary guitarist Billy Zoom, sitting comfortably on a stool for health reasons, still sports that classic smile as he fires out that unique genre-bending style helping make X sound like no other band. Drummer DJ Bonebrake clearly hasn’t slowed down a bit. Every tune was still played in the original tempo and passionate vigor, with fast-paced tunes retaining their original breakneck, punkish speed. There is no slowing down Mr. Bonebrake!
“A good song is a good song, and good musicians can play all different styles.”
John Doe | X
Fourth song in and I suddenly had an out-of-body experience. I drifted from the front rail of the Belly Up stage, transported back in time to my couch as a teenager watching MTV. Unlike many MTV-era bands donning wild hair and colorful outfits, I stared wide-eyed at an unpretentious low budget video showing a punk/goth-looking quartet deliver a raw, gritty, riff-driven punk rock concoction. The music illuminated non-traditional off-kilter male/female lead vocal harmonies like nothing I’d ever heard – but it worked. They truly spoke to me, I was all-in on X! That milestone video, “The Hungry Wolf” from X’s third album “Under the Big Black Sun” was directed by the band’s producer/The Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek. The track is still my favorite X tune, perhaps due to sentimental value.
Returning to the Belly Up after my flashback, it was surreal realizing that I was five feet away from X currently performing “The Hungry Wolf” – 40 years from that memorable night watching MTV when I first discovered X. Moments like this are why we love music.
X delivered a nice mix of tunes from many albums, even including their 2020 release, “ALPHABETLAND.” Song selection was noticeably different from their previous show in LA, which is always appreciated. The show’s energy hit top speed barely halfway in with a strong performance of the dynamic and hypnotic “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts.” Cervenka and Doe were as great as ever; vocals just dialed in together like a well-oiled machine. The crowd was boisterous all night, huge cheers, loud sing-alongs, frequent fan call outs to band members in between songs – “We love you Exene!” “Billy you’re the best!”
It was an epic performance by a legendary band and the San Diego audience enjoyed it with immense delight.