Punk Legends X Showcased Their Softer, Countrier Side Last Night at Trees

X, pictured in their early-'80s heyday, played a low-key set at Trees last night
X, pictured in their early-'80s heyday, played a low-key set at Trees last night
Michael Hyatt

X Trees, Dallas Thursday, April 9, 2015

Last night, iconic punk band X gave the crowd at Trees a set that served up a lot of surprises. Rather than bang out one hard-charger after another, the Los Angeles quartet (aided by touring member Michael Kilpatrick, who switched between guitar, drums and percussion) showcased more of their rockabilly and traditional country core than their punk side. From "In This House That I Call Home" to their version of Leadbelly's "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes" to "Poor Girl," the band significantly held back for the first half of their set. So much so that it felt more like a show you'd see at Adair's rather than Trees.

See also: The Ten Greatest Texas Punk Bands Five Dallas Punk Bands to Watch in 2015

That's not to say they completely eschewed their aggressive side over the course of their 21-song set. They played "Los Angeles," "The Hungry Wolf" and "White Girl" with conviction, even with a lot of noticeable restraint by drummer D.J. Bonebrake. He didn't attack his drums, but he had no problem keeping time, either. Guitarist Billy Zoom, who perfectly hops between Eddie Cochran leads and Johnny Ramone downstrokes, sat on a stool for most of the time, smiling his usual wide smiles throughout.

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But, more than 35 years since they got their start, John Doe and Exene Cervenka's bruised-yet-golden harmonies remain at the heart of what makes X so special. Fellow Angeleno punk Henry Rollins once declared those harmonies as some of the greatest things on Earth, and it was easy to see why last night. Since they were not pushed by faster tempos, both Doe and Cervenka had more breathing room to hold out each note they sang. Couple that with how loud they were in the mix and not much was lost in the overall impact.

One of the biggest surprises was when Bonebrake vacated his drum stool to play the vibraphone on a few songs and Zoom took a few leads on a tenor sax. Especially on the after-hours ballad "Come Back to Me," the change-ups felt welcome. They then ended their main set with an inspired version of "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts" (followed by a loud three-song encore, including "Adult Books), which was a nice way to end the night.

Granted, the punk side of X was toned down, but fans in the audience who had seen them multiple times before did not mind. Rather, they liked the change of pace compared to previous visits to town at the Granada and the State Fair. For a band that still focuses on the records they cut three decades ago, it's great to see the band still out there, delivering entertaining interpretations of their classic material. If that means showcasing a less-appreciated side of their music, then more power to them.

Personal bias: I've been an X fan since 1997, but this was my first time to see them in person. I would have liked to have seen more of the band's angrier side, but I couldn't argue with their decision to play the great "Come Back to Me" and "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts."

Random note: I'm all in favor of shows starting earlier, but it was a little weird to see X go on right at 9:30. When the band was finished and Trees had completely cleared out, the Queers started playing across the street at Three Links.


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