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DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN

X carries L.A.'s mongrel-rock pedigree in pocket

X, it looks as though you're holding up pretty good for a band that once sang about living so dangerously. Over the group's 20-plus year career, X has marked a converging point for many musically inclined Angelinos in the hairy lineage of L.A.'s rock scene.

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X arrived with a bang during the late-'70s punk era, propelled by the heated vocal exchanges and beat-poet images of John Doe and Exene Cervenka and rounded out by guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer D.J. Bonebrake. As the group played dingy local clubs, it brought plenty of the rockabilly and '50s party flavor, much to the credit of Zoom's trebly, caffeine-wired guitar picking. His style is personified by homies like Los Lobos and the Blasters, whose guitarist, Dave Alvin, along with Tony Gilkyson, replaced a departing Zoom for a time in the late '80s. X also learned a thing or two from the sultry, dangerous image conveyed by Jim Morrison and the Doors, whose keyboardist, Ray Manzarek, produced several of the band's most well-regarded albums.

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Since reforming in 1992 and again in 1998 (with a returning Zoom), X has proven capable of retaining its rep as a high-energy live act. The Hey Zeus and Unclogged albums from roughly those years kept the name alive, but X's finest hour will always be represented by a classic string of albums released by the original lineup between 1980 and 1983: Los Angeles, Wild Gift, Under the Big Black Sun and More Fun in the New World. Last year's double-disc collection, The Best: Make the Music Go Bang, compiled many selections from that reckless and sundry era, along with a few from the Alvin years and the band's countrified side project the Knitters, which members Doe, Cervenka, Alvin, Bonebrake and new addition Johnny Ray Bartel recently resurrected for an album and tour.

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The more recent release, Live in Los Angeles, presents X kicking out several songs, both old and newer, at a 2004 show that was recorded on home turf. Zoom's frantic, 10-ton guitar still sounds mean, as if it packs a switchblade. Cervenka and Doe howl like the most intellectual of coyotes and Bonebrake keeps impeccably frenetic time.

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The members of X appear to be intent on reaping the benefits from those royalty checks that escaped them the first go 'round — one of the few bands from L.A.'s late-'70s/early-'80s punk community (the Zeros, Circle Jerks, Dictators and Weirdos among the others) that have been able to do so. We're not talking overkill, but there's an awful lot of X to be had these days.

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Along with the new live album and anthology, both the Live in Los Angeles performances and the 1986 film The Unheard Music (which captures live, home and backstage footage) were recently released for the first time on DVD. Filmed at a point when the band was nearing a layoff of about six to seven years and both Doe and Cervenka were on the verge of equally spotty solo careers, Unheard Music provides an up-close look at the four band members' decidedly different personalities. Live in L.A. captures the same group almost a decade later — older, deafer, but still able to make some sparks fly. Doe still sports pretty kick-ass rock 'n' roll hair, too.

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