Punk rock was already in full swing in the UK and New York when X released their first single, “Adult Books,” in 1978 – the Sex Pistols had already come and gone, the Ramones had already released their first three classic albums. By the time the band released their full-length debut Los Angeles in 1980, many bands of the first wave were already gone. Yet in this album, and the several which followed, X served to revitalize the genre, bringing in elements of rockabilly and roots rock that would come to define their sound and make them the standard bearers of a particularly west coast version. The band released five albums with their original line-up before guitarist Billy Zoom left the fold in 1986. Zoom returned to the band in the late 90s, and though they haven’t released any new music since, they have continued to be a touring force to be reckoned with.
A year ago, however, Zoom was diagnosed with an aggressive form of bladder cancer, and was forced to leave the road for treatment. The band continued on without him, using Jessie Dayton from bassist John Doe’s solo band as a fill-in to complete their touring obligations, while optimistically saying that Zoom would return when he completed his treatment. Zoom did indeed announce in December that his cancer had been forced into remission and that he would be back. Last weekend, the band began their “Re-Zoomed” tour, celebrating his return, playing their first show at the State Theatre in Falls Church.
Though Zoom had only been gone for a little over a year, excitement and anticipation at his return was high. Zoom is still actively undergoing chemotherapy and is playing during his weeks off from treatment, so it was entirely understandable when he spent most of the show sitting on a stool, getting up only to play saxophone on a couple of songs. Still, he played flawlessly, making it appear almost effortless, and despite any difficulty he may still be going through he appeared cheerful and upbeat. Where his usual energy and stage presence may have been a bit withdrawn, Doe, singer Exene Cervenka, and drummer DJ Bonebrake did their best to make up for it. In a year where the world of music has lost so many luminaries, it was refreshing to see some good news.
The band played a setlist drawn entirely from their first four classic albums. Opening with “Beyond and Back” and “In This House That I Call Home” from their 1981 album Wild Gift, they launched into a 22-song exploration of these early releases, playing both the hits and the deep cuts. The audience, many of whom have followed the band for years now, knew every word. Highlights included “Your Phone’s Off the Hook But You’re Not” and “The World’s a Mess; It’s In My Kiss” from Los Angeles, “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes” and “Motel Room in My Bed” from 1982’s Under the Big Black Sun, and “True Love” from 1983’s More Fun in the New World. The band closed out the main set with their cover of The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen” (which they originally recorded on the Ray Manzarek-produced Los Angeles) before returning for an encore of “The New World,” “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline,” and “Because I Do.”
The show was opened by Dead Rock West, the duo of singer Cindy Wasserman and guitarist Frank Lee Drennen, who released an album of Everly Brothers covers last year titled It’s Everly Time.