Live: X/Rollins Band/The Riverboat Gamblers

Henry Rollins pic #1

THE MERIDIAN -- 8/28/2006: Henry Rollins is one of my heroes. I dig his music, his spoken word/comedy, his books -- I'll even go see crappy movies that he's in just because I like to see him act. Yeah, I'm talking about Jack Frost, and I'll probably rent Wrong Turn 2 eventually, as well. I'll also always take the Rollins side in the Black Flag debate that scenesters seem to compulsively bring up at the mere mention of his name.
With that in mind, I have to admit that the last few times that I saw the Rollins Band, I left a little disappointed. At the time I really couldn't put my finger on it, but something just wasn't right; the man wasn't firing on all cylinders like he was at Lollapalooza or on the Helmet double-bill. Maybe he's getting old? I mean, of course he's getting older, but maybe it's actually starting to affect his performance?
Then I noticed that his fall tour with X was to be his reunion with the Weight/Come In And Burn-era backing band lineup. The "classic" Rollins Band, if you will: Melvin Gibbs, Sim Cain, Chris Haskett, and Theo Van Rock. The jazzbos, rather than the "Sunset Strip cowboys" of Mother Superior (those are Greg Ginn's words, not mine). Now, I don't dislike the Mother Superior-backed Rollins material -- I actually listen to Get Some Go Again quite a bit -- but there's something about the previous lineup that "pops" a little more, to my ears. Anyway, I was pretty stoked to see what might come of this.
The Riverboat Gamblers opened up the show, and I was very interested in catching their set because I'd heard so much about them, most of it positive. Plus, they're from Texas, so I felt the need to support. Thankfully, they more or less lived up to the hype and could quite possibly be the closest thing to the Stooges or MC5 I've heard or seen in a while. Which is saying a lot, considering that hundreds of current bands apparently set out to rip those two groups off in particular (and usually fail miserably). The Riverboat Gamblers delivered the same type of punk-infused rollicking rock-and-roll so honestly and effortlessly that it didn't come across as posturing or calculated in the least. Even the lead singer's "sing in the crowd and jump on the bar" schtick seemed to be a natural extension of the band's vibe, as if the songs made it so that he absolutely had to get crazy, having no real choice in the matter. The Riverboat Gamblers also managed to get the somewhat older, more stoic crowd into the rock; they even got metal horns out of me at a couple of points.
Rollins Band was next up, and the moment that everyone walked onstage, you could hear the crowd start to rumble with anticipation. I would guess that about half of the people didn't realize that the old band was back (the promo ad pictures for the show still featured Mother Superior). Right as the realization dawned on the rest of the crowd, Rollins Band launched into "Divine," and they never looked back. Chalk it up to that amorphous "chemistry" that few musicians share, but this was the Rollins Band that I'd been missing. With this lineup, everything seemed to click, and Hank came out all guns blazing. Bassist Melvin Gibbs seemed a little subdued in comparison, and Chris Haskett was concentrating on his fretboard acrobatics (like always), but Sim Cain was definitely beaming and getting into the whole affair behind the drum kit. Whatever their outward appearances, the reloaded Rollins Band put on one of the best shows I've seen in a long, long time (possibly ever).
The setlist was (understandably) biased toward Weight-era material; "Liar," "Disconnect," "Fool," "Civilzed," and "Icon" all reared their ugly heads from that album, as did "Low Self Opinion," from The End of Silence, and "Starve," from Come In And Burn. Henry tore into all the material like a man possessed (dare I say, re-energized?). His stage presence rose to a new level of intensity -- and if you've seen him at all, that's pretty fucking intense. Unfortunately, the band didn't play my personal favorite ("Shine"), but the show was stellar nonetheless. The official word is that after this last Rollins Band tour, they might attempt to write new material together to make this more than a one-off reunion thing. I really hope that they can pull it off. If the vibe at the show is any indication, then they can, with a vengeance.
Now, I have to admit it: I went to the show to see Rollins Band, even though X was headlining. I know that makes me a poser/sellout/neophyte/whatever, but I don't really care. I've always been into the idea of X more than the actual music, but I respect their position in the music pantheon. These days, though, one of my favorite bands, The Old 97's, draws pretty strongly from the X musical stylebook, so I've kind of been more open to it at this point than I hadn't been in the past. "Maybe I'll give it another go," I tell myself. "Plus, you know, they're legends..." So I stuck around for their set.
Of course, the first thing I noticed was that these cats were getting up in years. John Doe's appearance didn't really surprise me, since he's a regularly working actor that I see a lot, but Billy Zoom looked like he could be my grandfather. Exene Cervenka also looks like there's a five-year-old somewhere that probably calls her Meemaw. I wondered internally how much of a disaster this could turn out to be. Then the band kicked into the first song and made me look like a jackass.
For a band comprised of people in their mid to late 50s, X can still hang with the best, and they put on a set that was almost as energetic and incendiary as the Rollins Band before them. Billy Zoom nailed the licks and riffs with surgical precision and killer tone, John Doe bounced around like a madman, Exene danced around like a crazed Stevie Nicks (is that redundant?), and DJ Bonebrake consistently beat the shit out of the drums. Even technical difficulties didn't slow the band down; during one song (I'm pretty sure it was "Los Angeles") some audio issue caused X to stop during the first verse. The bug was quickly ironed out, John Doe made a few jokes, Exene simply said, "Let's do that again," and the band launched into the song a second time. That was about the only time during the set that they slowed down or even came up for air.
Every so often I see a show that re-affirms my faith in rock and roll, and this was one of those. No artifice, bullshit, or eyeliner -- just earth-shaking, ball-busting rock, as it should be. Raw, loud, and energetic. Thanks to Rollins Band, X, and the Riverboat Gamblers for making it happen. END