X and Rollins Band Replay The Best Times of Their Lives

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Tuesday night's 9:30 club bill of X and Rollins Band wasn't just a flashback to 1980s L.A. punk but to the precise period in which each band was at its best -- which wasn't necessarily in the '80s.

X has reassembled several times since its first layoff in 1988 but without original guitarist Billy Zoom, who departed in '84. Now Zoom is on board again, and in response Exene Cervenka and John Doe have returned to their earliest material and style. Drawing heavily from the band's first two albums, X played a set that sounded remarkably like its 9:30 debut some 25 years ago.

The quartet was lean and vigorous, with Zoom playing precise rockabilly licks as Cervenka and Doe reprised their ragged near-harmonies, which were mixed at roughly the same volume as the instruments. Just like the first time around, the result was muddy but dramatic. It worked best with songs, notably "Los Angeles" and "We're Desperate," with refrains tuneful enough to illuminate the murk. Yet such numbers were, as always, in the minority. The band played nearly two dozen tunes in little more than an hour, and most of them were essentially interchangeable.

There also wasn't a lot of variety in Rollins Band's material, which might be called punk yet is heavily metal. Fortunately, this version of the group includes not just Henry Rollins and longtime guitarist Chris Haskett -- both D.C. natives -- but also bassist Melvin Gibbs, who debuted with 1994's "Weight." As the shirtless Rollins assumed a wary stance that brought low his center of gravity, Gibbs did much the same for the music, giving it an almost sultry propulsion.

The distinctions between the songs -- one of which was called "Liar" and all of which could have been -- were slight, but the interplay between Gibbs's earthy riffs and Haskett's abstract noise kept things interesting.

-- Mark Jenkins

© 2006 The Washington Post Company