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X delivers a rousing punk-rock history lesson

X singer Exene Cervenka (pictured here at Coachella in Indio, Calif., in 2009) X singer Exene Cervenka (pictured here at Coachella in Indio, Calif., in 2009) (The New York Times/File 2009)
By Scott McLennan
Globe Correspondent / October 4, 2011

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Filmmaker W.T. Morgan explored the formation and ascent of the band X in his documentary “X: The Unheard Music,’’ suggesting that the Los Angeles quartet had more substance to it than the typical punk-rock band born in the late ’70s.

After a screening of the 1986 film Sunday at the Paradise, X itself backed up the claim with a scorching performance that included all of its debut album, “Los Angeles,’’ and more than a dozen other tunes from a catalog that is American punk-rock scripture.

Morgan’s documentary underscores a key difference between American punks and English punks. The angry Brits dismissed their forefathers; in the case of X, it collaborated with Ray Manzarek of the Doors, and its music was as informed by jazz and country as it was by youthful angst.

That sense of building on legacy and using sturdy fundamentals carried forward into the night’s concert. Singer Exene Cervenka, bassist and singer John Doe, guitarist Billy Zoom, and drummer D.J. Bonebrake delivered a show that didn’t seem at all dated despite a set list without a single song recorded after 1983.

The nightclub setting was not ideal for screening “The Unheard Music,’’ as sightlines to the screen were limited and those in the sold-out crowd who couldn’t see the film simply talked over it.

After opening for itself, a clearly older-looking X took the stage. Yet, before the first song, “Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not,’’ was over, it was clear that the band’s vitality is intact. Cervenka and Doe’s ragged harmonies, Bonebrake’s swinging drumbeats, and Zoom’s fleet-fingered guitar picking (still delivered complete with a perpetual beatific smile) sounded immune to aging.

Most of the songs from “Los Angeles’’ were already concert staples for X, though the lesser heard “Sugarlight’’ and “Sex and Dying in High Society’’ were by no means anchors in a propulsive show that triggered plenty of slam dancing and body surfing.

After playing through the tightly wound emotional drama of “Los Angeles,’’ X used the balance of its set to explore the band’s breadth, moving from the lurching “In This House That I Call Home’’ to the militant “The New World.’’

Doe and Cervenka performed as an acoustic duo on “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts,’’ dedicating the song to all of the other bands who, in Doe’s words, fought the good fight. X is certainly still doing its part.

Scott McLennan can be reached at


At: Paradise Rock Club, Sunday