Old-school punk rock band X brought moshpits to Santa Ana

Few bands have withstood the test of time for more than 45 years. Fewer bands have done it with the original members the entire time. Even fewer have done this in the punk and alternative world. And arguably, of those in that diminutive list, no one has done it better than John Doe, Billy Zoom, DJ Bonebreak, and Xene, better known as X. The iconic Southern California punk band brought their unique blend of punk and rockabilly stylings influenced by punk, Americana, folk rock, blues and jazz, to the packed Observatory in Santa Ana. They drew from their eight albums of music and decades of stage craft, and they absolutely crushed it. 

If you have never been to an X show, you are truly missing out. While there’s no crazy stage set up, no props, no laser show, and little onstage banter, what you get is a steady stream of classic punk rock music performed to perfection. Even though the band members are all approaching their senior years, not a single one of them has lost a step nor the ability to put on a great show. Top Shelf readers know that I am not one who typically enjoys shows where the band has little interaction, especially verbal interaction, with the audience. I love the banter from the stage as it creates a more intimate and personal experience. However, there are a few bands who walk on stage, do their job, and do it so damn well that the banter I typically long for is superfluous. X is one of those rare bands.

At the start of their show, Billy Zoom walked out on stage before the rest of the band to check his guitars and do a little tuning. He waved to the crowd and flashed his renowned Cheshire Cat smile before settling into his chair. Even though he needs to sit during the show, he still has his iconic widespread stance that fans of X can easily identify. Zoom’s driving guitar sound continues to be the life force of the band and its set. As the rest of the members joined him onstage, the energy from the crowd crescendoed. Xene took center stage, smiled, and waved at the crowd, and the band launched into “Beyond and Back”.

From the first song until the closing moments the crowd was 100% behind the band. They sang along loudly with nearly every song. John Doe encouraged the crowd to keep volume levels up to a respectfully loud and appropriate punk rock level while hammering the bass strings. DJ Bonebreak showed off his skills not only on the skins (something he is far better than many punk drummers at) and even jumped on the xylophone for a couple of songs. 

The house was filled with a mixed crowd, primarily age era old school fans but with a great mix of younger kids. I love seeing parents with the younger kids a punk shows like this. Raising them right! Reminder to the older generations of punk fans, even the casual ones; punk shows bring mosh pits. If you are not interested in being in the pit, then you need to move. Sorry, no seats plus standing room only floor plus punk music equals mosh pit. Please, again, please do not harass, grab, shove, hit or attempt to choke young punk kids who are there to dance and may bounce into you. Not cool, and most certainly not punk. Thankfully at this show the kids were all right and able to handle the situation appropriately. 

The highlights of the night for me included a couple of deeper cuts and of course the bands most popular songs “Los Angeles” and “Hungry Wolf”. However, my absolute favorite moment of the night happened when the drums hit, and the band launched into “Breathless” (originally by Jerry Lee Lewis). Xene still crushes this song perfectly with her minor key vocal rendition, and Zoom’s rapid strumming drove the crowd to a fever pitch. Few old school punk songs make me want to dance as much as this one. The night wrapped up the classic songs “Blue Spark” and “Your Phones Off the Hook but You’re Not”. The lights came up and Xene and John took a bow, thanked the crowd, and left the stage. Meanwhile, Bonebreak and Zoom hung out and chatted with as many in the crowd as they could before the security shooed the us all out the door. 

Even after 45 years, X still puts on one hell of a show. While they don’t talk to the crowd much during the show, their music and performance speaks volumes. If you want to see an iconic punk band put on a killer show, go catch X next time they are in town!

Photography and write up by Shane Pase

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