At first the audience just stood and stared. It didn't seem to know what to expect from Exene Cervenka, formerly of X, performing at the 9:30 club Thursday night. She and John Doe, her ex-husband and another former X member, created the sound that defined Los Angeles punk from 1978 to 1985. After their breakup, and her recent remarriage and move to Idaho, her musical mix includes bigger parts country and blues.
Cervenka and her touring band, including Tony Gilkyson from the last X lineup, used marchlike drumming on certain songs, and on others the rockabilly rhythms reminiscent of the old band. But the set also revealed her roots as a poet and the diversity of her musical tastes, which were relegated to the sidelines while she was part of X.
Her unassuming presence allows her voice and lyrics to remain the focus, staying with but not overpowering the musical talents of her band. Affecting a down-home easiness in a pair of thrift-shop-chic dresses, she sounded as if she meant it when she sang "Stop the world, I want to get back on."
The late-night show, intimate by club standards, included songs from both her solo albums. "Cocktail Trees" was delivered with more punch than the recorded version. "She Wanted," off the first album, and "Real Estate," off the second, also drew a positive response. The group finished strong with Hazel Dickens's "Will Jesus Wash the Bloodstains From Your Hands."