X is one of those punk rock bands I’ve been familiar with since college radio days a million years ago. But I’ve always been standing at the edge of the pool, having not quite found the time to really dive in. I got the kick in the pants I so clearly needed when the news arrived a few months ago that they were coming to Portland, and I’d finally have a chance to see them live.
I can’t tell you how many Fourth of Julys I’ve listened to their song “4th of July.” And I also can’t tell you how many times I listened to the title track to their 1987 album, “See How We Are.” X has released seven studio albums beginning in 1980 with the last one being 1993’s “Hey Zeus!”
The sweet sounds of “See How We Are:”
While I can’t sit here and tell you I am suddenly an X expert, I can report that I have listened to “See How We Are” as well as the 2005 live album “X – Live in Los Angeles” a whole bunch lately and have developed a keen appreciation for why this band that never quite became a household name has a considerable following and why I suspect there’s going to be a very appreciative crowd at Port City Music Hall on Tuesday night.
Oh, and one more fun fact: Did you know that X had a song called “Love Shack” before the B-52s? It’s entirely true, and you can find the song on their 1985 album “Ain’t Love Grand.” As for the here and now, X has successfully crowdfunded the release of “X! Live in Latin America,” and it will be released in April. There’s also an exhibit about them opening on Oct. 13 in their Los Angeles stomping grounds.
In the midst of my growing – and long overdue – love for X, I got offered an interview with X singer and bass player John Doe, now 64. I said yes.
Has X ever played in Maine?
Once. Maybe 1985.
I bet there will be a couple of people who were at that show at the Port City one.
They’ll be lording it over the other people that “I was here back when Abraham Lincoln was president, and it was all different.”
Before this tour, when was the last time you were out on the road?
Since 1999, we’ve been touring all this time. This is just a more extensive tour. Normally, we play 30 to 50 shows, and this year we’re playing 80 to 100. The reason for that was that Elektra (records) was doing an anthology back in ’97 or ’98, and so somebody contacted Billy (Zoom, guitar and sax), because he hadn’t been playing with us, and actually we hadn’t been playing since ’95. So, there were two or three years when we didn’t play at all and then Billy decided he still liked playing and wanted to play with us. So those things aligned, then we started playing again right after that. We realized that there was a demand for it, and this is kind of what we do, and we always thought having a career in music was legit, and that’s fine. You don’t have to just play for a few years and flame out. And then it’s 40 years later with a lot of stuff in between.
How excited are you about the upcoming “X: 40 Years of Punk” exhibit at the Los Angeles Grammy Museum and how did this come to be?
It’s very exciting. You work and work and do all these things that you think are somewhat worthwhile, and some people pay attention and then a lot of people don’t. Even though the Grammy Museum is kind of a very specific museum, they do good stuff. They honor people and put up exhibits in a righteous kind of way.
And the way it happened was I had done a bunch of live events there and became friendly with one of the people that works there, and I remember last year I said, “You know, we have this 40th anniversary coming up. We’re planning to do some major touring and what do you think about doing an exhibit?” She brought it up to some other people and they said “sure,” and they found a time and a space. It was about 600 square feet, which was cool, and then we started showing them what we had as far as instruments and ephemera and clothes and artwork and all this kind of stuff, and they pushed it to October and then almost tripled the size of the exhibit.
You’ve been in the music business for 40 years. From your perspective, what do you think has changed the most and what do you think has stayed the same?
What has stayed the same is that good music is still good music and bad music is still bad music. You can define that any way you like, whether it’s just something that hits you in the gut or that you love because it’s so witty or you hate it because it’s cloying and cliche and just bad. And what’s changed is the whole business model. I can’t even believe I’m using those two words together.
The whole music business has changed because there used to be a constricted part of the hourglass, which was all the business people. Sometimes they really messed it up and other times they tossed some of the stuff that wasn’t actually very good to the side. People couldn’t get even an independent record contract or get an independent record company to put their record out. The reason for that is that they weren’t very good. They just didn’t have an “it,” whether it was the communication “it” or the virtuoso “it” or the whatever “it,” they didn’t have any of that.
So, now it’s anything and everything and nobody gets paid for anything and so people have to tour all the time. You can complain about it all you want, but it is the reality.
We’re very excited that X is coming to Maine. What’s the show going to be like?
We have this show that starts off with some kind of revved up punk rock rootsy rockabilly stuff and then transitions into these weird-ass deep cuts and then we bring it home with our bread and butter, which is punk rock and it’s good. I can assure you that we will rock out.
8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19. Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland, $30 in advance, $35 day of show, $45 preferred seating. portcitymusichall.com