Sunday, November 19 , 2017, 6:36 pm | Fair 57º


Jeff Moehlis: From Punk to Folk with Exene Cervenka

The legendary punk rocker of X plays an acoustic-folk show at Velvet Jones

When the definitive history of rock-and-roll is written — give me time; my other job keeps me pretty busy — the chapter on punk rock will necessarily focus on bands from London (The Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Clash, etc.) and New York City (The Ramones, Television, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, etc.).

But Los Angeles bands deserve more than just a footnote. L.A.-spawned The Germs, The Weirdos, Flipper and hard-core pioneers Black Flag, The Circle Jerks and the Descendents. (Depending on how you define punk rock, you also might include The Runaways and even The Go-Go’s.) And there’s one more, the best L.A. punk band of them all, in my humble opinion: X.

Formed in 1977, X featured the songs and approximate harmonies of couple John Doe and Exene Cervenka, driven by the rockabilly guitar licks of Billy Zoom and energetic drumming of D.J. Bonebrake.

The band’s 1980 debut album, Los Angeles, produced by Doors keyboardist Ray Manzerek of all people, ranks as one of the best punk albums of all time, in the same class as The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, Wire’s Pink Flag, The Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables and Television’s Marquee Moon.

After 1981’s punky follow-up Wild Gift, X’s sound mellowed somewhat, incorporating country and folk elements. Hey, even punks grow up, right? The subsequent side projects and solo albums of X’s members span the spectrum from punk to folk.

A folk incarnation of Cervenka performed to a small, mixed-age crowd at Velvet Jones on Nov. 15, highlighting songs from her new album, Somewhere Gone, which were written while she was living in rural Missouri and offering intimate takes on life, love and relationships.

Like the album, the concert featured Cervenka’s strummy acoustic guitar and folky harmonies from “Wolfmaiden” (Cindy Wasserman from the band Dead Rock West). The sound was filled out by “Conquering Lion” on guitar, harmonica and mandolin, and “Black Scorpion 35” on acoustic bass guitar and banjo. (I believe that these were Frank Lee Drennen and David J. Carpenter, also from Dead Rock West.) The playing was somewhat ragged at times, which I primarily mean as a compliment.

Concert highlights included the haunting opener “Somewhere Gone” about a woman “escaping another hurricane / she’s on the Memphis train,” the rural-stomp “Trojan Horse” and “Honest Mistake,” with lyrics that include “I’m trying to make / an honest mistake / out of you.”

It has been well-publicized that earlier this year Cervenka was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. A statement from her notes the irony that the band X has been a longtime supporter of the Sweet Relief charity, which was started after uninsured musician Victoria Williams was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Cervenka’s statement reflects a positive outlook, and the concert showed she isn’t slowing down.

For those looking for the punkier side of Cervenka, X will perform at The Wiltern in Los Angeles on Dec. 19, a “Merry X-Mas” show — get it? It might just be worth the drive.

Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB.

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