In the music spotlight: X

BY JEFF ELBEL | FOR THE SUN-TIMES

Trailblazing Los Angeles punk rock group X return to Chicago for three nights at City Winery. The band made a celebrated run at the venue last summer, but this time there’s an unfortunate twist. Founding guitarist Billy Zoom is staying home to undergo intensive treatment for bladder cancer. His bandmates are on the road raising awareness for the “Help Billy Zoom Kick Cancer’s Butt” campaign.

A portion of ticket sales are earmarked to support Zoom’s recovery. “He’ll get paid whether he’s there or not,” says X singer and lyricist Exene Cervenka. “He’s one fourth of the band.”

“He’s already begun treatment,” says Cervenka. “He’s got a good attitude and he’s doing pretty well, all things considered. He’s overwhelmed with the love and support he’s been getting. It takes a lot of the stress off of him and his family to know that people are contributing to help pay his bills.”

To many outsiders, the punk rock ethos seems to center upon alienation, aggression, attitude and anarchy. However, Cervenka describes a strong sense of family uniting punks. “It was always about community, from the get-go,” says Cervenka. “Everyone I know in my life is like that. We always do the best we can.”

“Billy’s also putting money aside now for other people who are sick. He was like, ‘Let’s help take care of some other people, too.’”

Performing with a perpetual Cheshire cat grin, Zoom brought his appreciation for Django Reinhardt’s sophisticated jazz and the twang of Eddie Cochran to mix with bassist John Doe’s taste for blues and country music, the versatile drumming of DJ Bonebrake, and Cervenka’s urban poetry. With gritty tales of street life including “Los Angeles” and “The Hungry Wolf” and pointed political fare like “The New World,” the band helped to define a flourishing Los Angeles punk scene in the late 70s, and distinguished itself from British acts like the Sex Pistols and Clash or New York acts like the Ramones.

Subbing for Zoom at City Winery is Texas-based guitarist Jesse Dayton, an accomplished sideman whose credits include time with Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and the Supersuckers. “He’s an excellent player,” says Cervenka. “John has worked with him. We’re looking forward to getting back together with Billy as soon as we can, but John told me, ‘We’re going to do the rocking-est punk rock show.’ We’ll do ‘We’re Desperate,’ ‘Los Angeles,’ ‘White Girl,’ and ‘Your Phone’s Off the Hook.’ We’re going to have a great time.”

Donations to Zoom’s fund can be placed at gofundme.com/yx66a4.

* X, with Dead Rock West, 8:00 p.m. July 26-28, City Winery, 1200 W Randolph, (312) 733-9463, $35-$45; citwinery.com.

SPOTIFY playlist: http://tinyurl.com/X-spotify

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.

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