Interstate 10 brings travelers from Los Angeles to the Palm Springs area—but for a show this weekend, the band X took the road less traveled: Highway 62, to Pioneertown and Pappy and Harriet’s. After 37 years of music and exploring, X turned in an enchanted evening beneath the desert stars.
As you pull into Pappy and Harriet’s, you are guided to the sandy parking lot next to the faux Western town, left over from the black-and-white cowboy serials made famous by Gene Autry. As I walked toward the rear entrance, I could see John Doe relaxing on the porch of P&H’s green room, aka the “little house,” which is part of the former movie set. Doe wore a flowered shirt and patent leather boots, and appeared tranquil.
Many of the estimated 700-plus fans lined up early to try to get close to the stage. Waiting for the show to start, a young teenager stood at the side of the stage, holding a small picture frame; she was accompanied by her father, who was wearing a well-worn Who tour shirt. Exene Cervenka was milling around as the father and daughter approached; I overheard the proud father introduce his daughter to Exene as she gave the Queen of Punk the framed gift. I imagine this created a permanent memory for this young X admirer.
Doe, Cervenka, Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake performed what they called an acoustic set—but this was not a wholly unplugged show. Doe did not exchange his well-worn colossal Fender P bass for a Mexican guitarrón, but his electric bass was smaller. Zoom swapped his retina-burning Gretsch Silverjet for a red Gretsch hollow body; he performed on a comfortable bar stool without his signature leather biker jacket. Billy Zoom, an expert in the restoration and re-creation of tube amps, revealed a newfangled prototype acoustic amplifier. Bonebrake, who brought along a Musser xylophone, was full of glee. Of course, Cervenka stood in the center of the stage—and she was ready to rock
Bonebrake took the lead by bumping on his drums for the start of “Hungry Wolf.” You could tell this was a special night. Doe and Zoom switched places to make room for additional soft percussion, mellowing a customarily rowdy punk-rock sound.
“This is fucking scary doing something different after thirty six years,” John Doe told the audience, referencing the new “acoustic” approach and explaining: “We rehearsed the hell out of this.” At one point, Doe introduced “Drunk in My Past” by reminding the audience that the song was not autobiographical.
X worked through their set smoothly, only briefly pausing to discuss the new interpretations of their work. The band expressed some love for Pappy and Harriet’s, with Doe sharing that X does play bars on occasion—and adding that some are actual shitholes, and are not as nice. He then dedicated a song to Pappy’s.
X has never been a conventional punk group, because the band always infused country, folk and Americana elements into their material. However, make no mistake: X is a punk band. They concluded the appearance with “Devil Dog,” reminding everyone that the band remains a hard-driving influence in the punk world.