Twenty-seven years. T-w-e-nnnn-t-y s-e-vvvvvv-en years. I tried to knock the reality of that number into my head, the weight of such a chunky hunk of time, and in this case I kind of failed. The fact remained that it had been 27 years since I had seen the band X, arguably the finest American punk band, perform live. How these things happen I don’t know, for their show that I saw in Chicago in 1983 was one of the very best of the best I have seen of any genre. I recall that I had worn some sort of sparkly go-go outfit, planted myself smack dab in front of vocalist/bassist/guitarist John Doe, and danced myself into a soaked sweat, smiling and screaming and pounding my hands on the stage. I must’ve looked particularly crazed (and at a punk show that is saying something) because at the end of the set, John Doe reached down to me and shook my hand, shook his head with a huge grin and said, “Thank you!” I grinned back, shook his hand a little sheepishly, and replied, “Thank YOU!” That moment, and that whole show, man…my pleasure, my good luck.

There was nothing save some kind of major disaster (and probably not even that) that was going to keep me from seeing X play at Seattle’s venerable Moore Theater on New Year’s Eve. Oh babies, listen to this: we were gonna get a showing of the fantastic 1986 X documentary “The Unheard Music” PLUS ALL of X’s 1st album “Los Angeles” performed live, PLUS another set of “greatest hits!” YES, I’LL BE THERE. Tickets BOUGHT. I became downright giddy when I received word that I would also be able to have a photo pass for the show. I may have danced a jig or performed some other cultural expression of joy, I’m not sure. Holy crap! X!

New Year’s Eve arrived and I got to the Moore slightly after doors opened and was told by two nice security folks that the photo pass was not limited to the usual “first three songs only” rule. What??? WOW! Cool! And I was given two free tickets! Aw! Now that was very nice too; I didn’t even ask for them. And to make things even impossibly cooler, what did the band have playing over the Moore PA as we waited for the movie to start? “The Kinks’ Greatest Hits!” Right??? Even COOLER, but not in the good sense, was the frigid temperature inside the Moore itself. I ain’t kidding, people left their winter parkas, hats, and gloves on. A security person explained it was the fail of the old radiator heat system. For this special evening only, the Moore was allowing alkiehaul and such into the theater instead of just the bar and lobby. I nursed my freezing fingers and lingering cough/fatigue with a coffee instead. I am BEING HERE.

Film fans, music fans, make a point of seeing or re-seeing “The Unheard Music.” It is so well done and is interesting even if you are unfamiliar with X. There are lots of performance clips and some quite funny and touching interview pieces -- the energy just jumps off the screen. Throughout the showing of the film, the Moore audience was laughing and clapping after songs, cheering for the band, booing the clueless record company/ AOR radio clods that ended up choking their own old-style music business to a miserable death. Watching the movie again reminded me about some of the severe frustrations of being a performer or fan of any kind of music that was considered outside the mainstream then. Getting X played on anything but college radio was hopeless, and if you weren’t on the radio, you weren’t selling records. MTV came into play, but X was shuttled for the most part to the once-weekly “120 Minutes” show. The only thing to do was to try to keep playing, and hope that word-of-mouth and good critical reviews would change things.

The film also reminded me why X was/is so great. All three guys – Billy Zoom on guitar and grin, DJ Bonebrake on drums, and the aforementioned John Doe – are truly skilled and knowledgeable musicians. “Punk” really isn’t a broad enough term to cover what they do; it’s not accurate or fair to lump them in with any kind of idea of thrashing incompetency (although I like that too). No, these guys can play pretty much anything and really well, too. You can hear their love of all kinds of music in what they do. All of them were listening intently to records and the radio, practicing for hours…you just know it. So X had a rock-solid foundation, but what made them absolutely unique was singer/lyricist Exene Cervenka. Her untrained voice in combination with the strong, smooth Doe’s made for an almost Appalachian/bluegrass-style dissonance that let you know right away that this was no other band. Cervenka’s multilayered vintage/punk mess look was her own and very influential, her words poetic and honest. Put it all together, the musicianship and the influences and the style and art and blasting energy, and you’ve got something important.

The movie ended, the screen was taken down, and the Moore audience was ready to rock. I took up my position with Big Camera and waited, all excited and happy. All around me, there were a lot of gray heads; yesterday’s punks, today’s grandpas and grandmas. It didn’t matter, because as they stood next to the kids too young to have seen X play before, age just goes away. You are all there for the music. And here we go…Billy Zoom’s legendary Gretsch Silver Jet arrives onstage, then he does, then Bonebrake, Doe, and Cervenka, and they go right into “Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not.” YES!

After the third song, “Soul Kitchen,” oh SHIT. I got the “tap.” “You gotta stop shooting now, that’s it!” said this other security guy. “But I was told that…!” “Nope! Out!” Oh, well, that’s OK, whaddya gonna do. I’m just happy to be there. So I move away, shut down Big, and take out Leetle Camera and continue on dancing and shooting. MAN! Everyone is dancing and nodding and just happy as hell. The band is tight, confident, and also seems happy as hell. John Doe could not have been more gracious in acknowledging the crowd, thanking them repeatedly for coming, for being there, for still being there, really. It makes me kind of emo, because you know he knows…it’s a true privilege to play music for people, and especially people who have hung in there with you and love you. And of course we know how great it is to hear it.

Why is it that the 27 years in this case just didn’t seem that long ago? Why wasn’t I ever thinking, oh man, I wonder if they’ve held up, wonder if they’ll be all jaded like so many others? I never thought these things for a second. I knew that they would be just as good as I remembered them to be in 1983. I just knew it, and they were. We all look a little different, but our hearts and the things that are important are exactly the same. X put on a superb show at the Moore. They are the real damn deal; hot as hell. I didn’t shake John Doe’s hand this time. I think I might’ve burst into big giant baby nostalgia tears at his big smile, 27 years on.

(More photos are here.)

Thank you a million times over to the Moore, Melissa Dragich, Steve from Porterhouse Records, and of course X for another memorable night.