Wednesday, August 28, 2013

X at Pershing Square- "You simply do NOT watch X from a f*cking lawn chair. That just isn't right!" -

X at Pershing Square in Downtown Los Angeles - August 17th, 2013

As I headed into LA to go see X for free (no less) at Pershing Square I was feeling pretty stoked. The drive was actually pretty pleasant, the weather perfect and I hadn't seen the iconic LA punkers since 2008 at the San Diego Street Scene which was a kind of odd gig for them. People seemed kind of blase and more content to mill about than really get into the music and it seemed the band wasn't feeling it that much either although they sounded really great. I was ready for this night to be different.

While I waited in line kamikaze skateboarders were blazing insanely down a one way hilly street into oncoming traffic. They were being stupid: yes but it was somewhat entertaining. The skaters shared the street stage with a bride and groom who were staging a photo session in downtown traffic amidst angry drivers who just want to get home from work. People were honking and such and getting kind of irate but in the end the photographer got the shot and a few people applauded. Once the line started moving and people entered one of two entrances to the park the males and females were split off (yes seriously) where the female's purses were gone through and guys were scanned with a metal detector wand. I know public safety is paramount but I was seriously expecting to be patted down or worse.

Beyond the body checks, I couldn't believe how many of the more middle aged folks brought lawn chairs and other picnic type accoutrements. The brain kind of spun in cranium. Two possibilities dangled in front of me. X fans (first wave fans) are damn old. The second possibility was that many of these people were just those super frugal concert goers who descend on any free concert in the summer and don't really pay attention to who is playing. By the nights end it was clear that it was a combination of both but one thing is absolutely sure: YOU do not fucking watch the iconic punk band X with your ass on a lawn chair! That is just not right.

There were other things that struck me as odd and unfortunate. The stage was set up way back from the metal concert barriers separated by 10 rows of metal chairs for "VIP Seating." This not only prevented those who stood in line early to get right up front from getting anywhere up front but those rarefied folks who were in that section blocked the view to the band (once they stood up) from many vantage points. The whole vip section was just plain ill conceived and frankly didn't seem very punk. In fact as I watched the people enter the VIP area, mostly 40 and 50 somethings, some with kids it felt more wrong. I overheard some of the Vips speaking to security and it was clear that many were friends of LA politicians. Others did seem to be friends of the band and I understand that friends of the band and other VIPs are going to have special access at any show but it would of been better if they got to stand in the wings or watch from stage left or right.

Once the opening band finished and X sauntered on stage, all the negativity left my body. Just seeing John Doe, Exene, Billy Zoom and Bonebrake get in position to do what they do best got me so damn amped up. By now Pershing Square had swelled to record capacity. I didn't realize it at the time having propped myself up against the far right barricade but standing on my toes and looking back was amazing. The crowd was going nuts. Those who were planning on picnicking throughout X's set had another thing coming. The push forward and the sheer amount of bodies clamoring for any open patch of grass or concrete forced those lawn chairs to be folded up and cast aside. I can imagine that some of those lawn chairs got stomped on, banged up and lost.

Some online pics (in particular at smugmug give you an idea how jam packed the park became as X took the stage. The white arrow shows me up against the barricade and while I was far to the right of the stage I got as good a view as possible considering the large armed security who seemed to love blocking peoples view. Maybe these guys should stand back, way back and view through scopes or whatever but it sucks that a number of people in my area were constantly having to crane their necks to see around these guys.

As X tore into one classic song after another the energy in the crowd amped up more and more. The VIP area ended up being only two thirds full if that and there was no need for chairs there because everyone was standing. There were also a few guys in the VIP section taking pics, standing on chairs further blocking a lot of peoples view but the music was so damn potent. X was hitting it on all cylinders and a good number of people in the crowd sang along. When John Doe sang. "She had to leave..." the entire crowd sang "LOS ANGELES" with Exene. It was one of those awesome moments.

Every song actually sounded better, more urgent, more ferocious then the album tracks. All incredible, Johny Hit and Run Paulene, Unheard Music, White Girl, Nausea, Hungry Wolf, Year One, Sugarlight were special stand outs to me as was the incredible Soul Kitchen that John Doe dedicated to Ray Manzarek. At one point, John Doe seemed to want to say something to the crowd and stammered a bit saying that he didn't know what to say to so many people. He acknowledged that X has always been popular in LA and yes it was a free show as if to say that is why there were so many people. He might of been partially correct but the main reason it was so packed is that it was fucking X and they were thankfully, unequivocally pumping out an incredible set and their music still sounded more powerful and wonderfully chaotic than a hell of a lot of current bands who just cannot muster up the punk magic that X has always been able to create so seemingly effortlessly. They are the real deal, that's all there is to it.

 For the most part the set moved non stop. A little banter between John and Exene and, of course, Billy Zoom in his classic crazy smiling pose. The crowd became more compact as the night wore on, there was a fair amount of crowd surfing, as much moshing as can happen when people are packed in like sardines and some people just freaking out. One guy who was probably in his 50's was going ballistic yelling at a security guard. They were butting heads and this guy was dropping atomic sized F bombs. Apparently, him and his wife and their lawn chair wanted out. They could not handle the punk mayhem around them and the dude was just losing it. Finally, the big (obviously) senior security dude who was packing heat kindly let them leave, go past the barrier and exit.

The security guards were walking on egg shells the entire night. They seemed to me to be super paranoid that the crowd could surge and in trying to stamp down your normal concert behavior (like crowd surfing) by shining their flashlights in people faces, in my mind, they just were stirring people up to be more unruly. At a certain point, the front barricade was practically folding over and people were flopping onto the empty chairs that were at the back of the VIP area. It was becoming a safety issue and security guards started pulling the chairs away, folding them up and tossing them up next to the stage. It made me laugh because those chairs shouldn't of been there in the first place. The VIP section shouldn't of been there either.

In the beginning and in the end, X is the ultimate Los Angeles punk band and are meant to be seen close up as you are standing leaning forward and either cheering them on, moshing or dancing but NOT sitting down and ABSOLUTELY not lounging in a beach chair. Holy fuck (again) that is just wrong. It was wonderful to see people of all ages singing along. A girl next to me who was probably 19 and who was obviously a big X fan told me it was the first time seeing them and that it was the best show she had ever witnessed. She was truly moved, a memory created that will last her whole life. I can imagine many people shared that same experience there in Pershing Square despite the venues many shortcomings. Yes, indeed, X absolutely killed it. They played an incredible set (and encore) and renewed my faith in LA punk (once again).

Robb Donker

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