I'm bleary eyed writing this, because I didn't get in until midnight from the X show and still had to be up at 5:30 for work, so I had a word with the nice girls at Alterra Coffee in my building, and here I am.
Mixed crowd at the Rave last night: lots of people our age, some younguns, some parents bringing their teenagers as well: "Kid, this is what I was into when I was your age. And they still rock. That should tell you something." We ran into a lot of our friends, and I felt like I was at a high school reunion at a school I transferred into my senior year: this was my generation, my music, and a lot of my friends, but Milwaukee wasn't where I spent a majority of those years -- Champaign, IL was. Still, the commonalities were the same: the reminiscing about how you could actually hang off the stage in 1982, the amazement that they still rock as hard as they do, all the T-shirts from the era that people dug out of their closets. Besides X and Rollins and Black Flag shirts (last time I saw Rollins in person he WAS with Black Flag, that's how long it's been!) I spotted plenty of Misfits, Dead Kennedys, Clash, Circle Jerks, Fear, Replacements, all the great midwest and west coast late 70s early 80s punk americana. How comfortable it all felt.
Evening started out with The Riverboat Gamblers, a high-energy, power punk (let's go so far as to say glam, not in appearance, but in musical sensibility) but with plenty of Raw Power to it. The lead singer has obviously taken a few lessons from the Iggy Pop Manual of songwriting and stage presence -- but filtered from their Texas home, instead of Iggy's Motor City. Like the Riveters I saw two weeks back, they gave me a nice warm fuzzy, that young loud and snotty still has a place in the amerikan musical landscape, and the future of good moshpit inducing music is bright. I liked them: tight four piece band, guitars slung low below their waistlines for that hunched, always looking over my shoulder punk stance, and the lead singer jacked up on his own internal amphetamines. Ran all over the stage, climbed on anything he could get a perch on, and -- in a wonderful flashback to the first time I saw X -- was held up carefully as he scaled the fence between the stage and the stage itself. Flashback: remember back in the early 80s, when moshing was still called slam dancing, and if anybody fell down, everybody stopped, helped the person get up, and made sure all was cool before slam dancing again? Remember when the security guards were there not to stop the moshing, but just to make sure it didn't get onto the stage? Remember when there was only one or two security guards, instead of the 7 we had tonight? That's what it felt like with this band: not the assholes who just beat each other up in the moshpit, thus bringing out the bouncers who demand we just mill about, but the fun slam dancing that required you wear your gnarly thrash boots, tuck your shirt in, and not be surprised if some punk managed to cop a feel.
Then Rollins. WTF can I say? He delivered everything we expected: no mike stand, black shorts, barefoot, still in magnificent shape (albeit the hair is getting a bit gray, but you don't notice it with the military haircut), no new tattoos (but does he really need any more?), Liar, a few spoken word rants, his shouting disguised as singing, Low Self Opinion, great tight band who can play like nobody's business, no light show, just bright white lights that highlighted every drop of the buckets and buckets of sweat. Buckets. By halfway through the show, he was drenched in his own sweat, as evidenced by the stream of it flowing from his shorts to the puddle on the stage floor he kept wiping up with the bath-sized towel. Rollins, man. Henry Fucking Rollins. Fuck. Fuckin' Henry Rollins. [shaking my head]. Fuck. I got a workout just watching him in his deep knee bends, neck presses, lower back bends. No wonder he's in such great shape. Henry Fucking Rollins, maaaaaaaaannnnn. Fuck. Just one thing, Henry. Fucking white Nike logo on your trademark black shorts. How could you? Doesn't somebody backstage have a sharpie you could black it out with? Its bad enough you gave Phil Knight support for his sweatshops by buying them. Did you have to sport the ad for it? (at least I spotted a New Balance logo on the black liner shorts, they're not so bad. And I grudgingly admit that while Nike's shoes suck, they're making good workout sports gear. But email me Henry, I'll point you in the direction of some great companies making quick-dry workout togs that don't leave such a yecchy taste in your -- by definition -- politically charged fans' mouths.) Then again, only if you were upfront like me would anybody have necessarily noticed it, but still. Henry, Henry, Henry. Kickass show overall so I'll forgive you, especially since I was wearing a black T-shirt I think I got at the goddamn Gap. Fuckin' Henry Rollins, maaaaaaaaan.
Then X. Between sets, I had a nice chat with some 30 -something fellas who commented that we'd see more girls toward the front of the stage after Rollins, and they were probably right, but at the same time, among my age group, it didn't make a difference. If you were into X back in '82, you were likely (girl or guy) into the Flag, the Kennedys, all those Decline of Western Civilization california hardcore and punk acts. And you might have also been into Devo. "Oh, they were mainstream," one of the guys shrugged off. Oh, no, honeys, not in 1978 when they played "Satisfaction" on SNL to the horror of mainstream pop fans and to the fascination of the few of us who ran out an bought their album instead of cursing their name. No, things were gloriously mixed up then, no so factionized like today.
Billy Zoom, I swear to God, has not stopped smiling in 25 years. Same sparkly gretch, same slicked back blonde (now graying) hair. DJ Bonebrake is still solid on the drums. John Doe's been around the block but is wearin' those years well. And Exene. She's been Beyond and Back, and looks it. She looks OK for her age, but damn good for her life. They jumped straight into The Hungry Wolf and we're all settled in for a night of wonderful nostalgia.
Thing is, as much as it pains me to write this, for I loved X, and I love Exene, but girlfriend seemed to be phoning it it. Sure, she wailed, and she danced about, and I danced about and sang along and closed my eyes and felt like I was back at Chicago's Park West in 1983, but there was something missing. Maybe it's because back in the 80s, Exene and Doe were married, were having classic relationship issues which they wore on their sleeves and wrote their songs about, and last night they were singing songs that didn't apply to each other anymore. Exene's been married twice since she and John divorced, and part of X's ferocity was the onstage duality of tension and love between the two of them that made their JeffAirplane harmonizing that much more harrowingly beautiful. Now its like, "OK, its been 20 years, we're still on good enough terms to be in a band together, the kids still love us, let's hit the road and sing the old sets." Fine with me, the songs themselves still hold up, but if anybody was looking to see the old X, they weren't there. And deep down, I didn't expect them to be (although John Doe still plays like he has to earn every penny), I expected -- and got -- the College Underground Music Class of 82-84 Reunion, and had a great time.
I think the thing was, Rollins went out there like he still has something to prove. Exene didn't. That's why X left me happy and satisfied, but Rollins left me exhilerated.