I swore I caught a whiff of a clove cigarette. But since you can’t smoke anywhere anymore, the scent must have been part of the punk rock flashback brought on by being in a room full of fans waiting for the band X to play their unique blend of gritty Los Angeles rapid fire rock & roll tempered with a rockabilly soul. The demographics skewed heavily towards representatives from Houston’s Montrose neighborhood circa 1980s – a group consisting of former garage apartment dwellers, former garage band members, their ex-girlfriends, and the critter in the tie-dyed shirt who was always front row at all the good shows.
Upon taking the stage, even the former power-punk couple, John Doe and Exene, reminisced of their early days playing Houston, noting the significant upgrade in venue for the band’s 40th anniversary. The Heights Theater, a proper performance space on a street known more for antiquing than live music was opposite in every way from the bunker-like, disco ball spinning atmosphere of Numbers where the band played in 1982. However, the crowd, in a standing room only formation, responded just the same as they did back in the day, albeit without a mosh pit as no one in this 40 + years fan base was taking a chance on breaking a hip.
This was an audience singing along to every song – songs that rarely went over the three-minute mark but provided a generous pour of indignation and desolation and a really badass cover of Jerry Lee Lewis’s Breathless. Four decades later, X’s music, much like the resurgence of The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984, remains totally on point as it was in the Reagan era. We chanted the chorus “I must not think bad thoughts” like a mantra for modern times. Despite the musical message reminding us “that the world’s a mess,” cathartic exhilaration bounced back and forth from the floor to the band members: grizzly ringleader John Doe, Exene, clutching the mike in her happy homemaker on a bender ensemble, the super cool DJ Bonebrake on drums and everywhere else, and guitarist Billy Zoom who maintained an unnerving perma-grin and used his forehead as a resting spot for his guitar pick while playing the the saxophone.
Fans quickly and unobtrusively snapped photos during the brief breaks between songs but otherwise kept their electronic devices in their pockets. A scene devoid of the constant chatter dominating many recent concert experiences. This crowd’s attention remained focused on listening to music they loved played by a band who still clearly loved playing the music. A punk rock show ironically turned master class in concert-going etiquette best summed up by the t-shirt worn by a mature music fan: Polite as Fuck.
Ain’t music grand!
Note: All photos taken quickly and unobtrusively by @j.hall.yall