By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Two of the most important bands to emerge from Los Angeles since the late 1970s team for a pair of shows at the Fillmore this weekend when pioneering punk outfit X and Latin roots-rock giants Los Lobos come to San Francisco.
One of the first punk bands to cross-pollinate the aggressive new sound with roots music in the late ’70s, X stands as one of the great American groups from the era and the only one still operating with it’s classic original line-up more than four decades later. Founded by bassist/singer John Doe and rockabilly-influenced veteran guitarist Billy Zoom in 1977, the outfit took shape with the addition of Doe’s poetry writing girlfriend Exene Cervenka as co-lead singer and drummer D.J. Bonebreak, who had previously played with fellow LA-punk progenitors the Germs and the Eyes.
X put out it’s first single — “Adult Books” backed with the ripping anthem “We’re Desperate” — the following year on independent label Dangerhouse Records. They became one of the standard bearers for the region with their inclusion on the Yes LA compilation along with contemporaries the Bags and the aforementioned bands the Germs and the Eyes. The band also appeared with those same bands in the seminal Penelope Spheeris punk documentary “The Decline of Western Civilization.”
The group’s success at mixing Zoom’s slashing roots-rock riffs with the poetic lyrics and ragged vocal harmonies of Doe and Cervenka would lead to a record deal with major independent Slash Records in 1980. Produced by onetime Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, the band’s first two albums Los Angeles and Wild Gift garnered global critical acclaim and established X as a leading light of West Coast punk.
Their success would continue with a leap to major label Elektra Records in 1982. With Manzarek still on-board as producer, the follow-up efforts Under the Big Black Sun and More Fun in the New World broadened the band’s audience while introducing more country elements to their songwriting. While X would continue to record and tour after Zoom departed the band (following the 1985 recording Ain’t Love Grand!), later efforts with Blasters guitarist Dave Alvin and his replacement Tony Glikyson would only show flashes of the brilliance heard on the first four seminal albums.
X continued to tour and record through the 1990s, but it was the return of Zoom to the fold in 1998 that reunited the classic line-up and led to a resurgence in live performances that often focused only on the powerful songs from their initial output. The band has stuck to touring for the most part save for a live CD/DVD package in 2005 and a digital only Christmas single with two yuletide standards in 2009, regularly selling out its holiday-themed tours on the West Coast that always pass through X’s fan stronghold of San Francisco.
Last year, the Grammy Museum in their hometown hosted X: 40 Years of Punk in Los Angeles, an exhibit that featured artifacts from early in the band’s career including original instruments and gear played by X, handwritten lyrics and notebooks by Cervenka and Doe and original concert flyers. For this latest visit to the Bay Area, the quartet comes to the Fillmore to play two shows alongside their equally respected LA counterparts Los Lobos.
Revered by some critics as one of the best American rock bands to emerge since the 1970s, Los Lobos has evolved over the course of over 40 years from bluesy roots-rock and Latin sounds to incorporate funky R&B grooves, folk and experimental electronica into its eclectic sound. Founded by multi-instrumentalists Dave Hidalgo and Louis Perez, guitarist Caesar Rosas and bassist Conrad Lozano in 1973 after the players met in high school, the group honed its fiery style of playing Top 40 covers and traditional Mexican standards at Southern California bars, weddings, quinceañeras and anyplace else they could get a gig for a decade before actually recording an album.
An independently produced album and EP led to a deal with Slash/Warner Bros. which issued the band’s 1984 major label debut How Will the Wolf Survive?, which was the first to features contributions from new member Steve Berlin on saxophones and keyboards. While it received a good deal of critical acclaim, the album was not the commercial success it deserved to be. The band’s profile would rise significantly with the success of the 1987 soundtrack for La Bamba featuring their blazing renditions of Ritchie Valens songs. While hitting the top of the charts might have led more commercially minded musicians to stick with stripped-down retro rock, Los Lobos followed that platinum album with La Pistola y El Corazon, an EP of acoustic Tejano/Mariachi songs.
In the ’90s, the band evolved to embrace electronic textures with help from producers Tchad Blake and Mitchell Froom who collaborated on several of the group’s most experimental and acclaimed efforts including the seminal album Kiko in 1992 and the equally beloved follow-up Colossal Head four years later. The band has been less prolific with the release of new original material (only two studio albums have come out in the past decade), but there is no questioning their status as one of the most accomplished and energetic live band playing today, as they confirmed with a fiery set at this year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival that was a highlight of the weekend.
The two veteran LA acts will be joined at the Fillmore for these two shows by another Los Angeles rock icon, founding member of ’80s hitmakers the Go-Go’s Jane Wiedlin. While the San Francisco resident still regularly tours with the band that topped the charts with such radio favorites as “We Got the Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed,” Wiedlin released an album with new duo Elettrodomestico earlier this year that features her punk-tinged collaborative songs written with Italian guitarist Pietro Straccia. The pair will also be opening for X at the band’s Sunday show at the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma as well as shows in Portland and Seattle.
X and Los Lobos
Friday-Saturday, Nov. 23-24, 8 p.m. $55