A living chapter of the legendary Cleveland punk scene comes to Memphis this Friday when X__X (pronounced Ex Blank Ex) roll through town with current Cleveland rocker Obnox and semi-local heroes True Sons of Thunder. Formed in the late '70s, X__X mostly gets lumped into the weirdo Cleveland art-punk scene that spawned the Cleveland Confidential compilation LP and served as home to bands like Pere Ubu, the Styrenes, and the Electric Eels. While the Electric Eels (the precursor to X__X) would receive a release on the iconic punk label Rough Trade (home to bands like Stiff Little Fingers and Essential Logic), X__X have always been seen as more of an obscure punk band, possibly because of how short the band's life was. X__X did leave two singles as proof they existed, but both records came out after the band called it quits.
Now, nearly 40 years after they were originally active, X__X is back with an album on Smog Veil records called Albert Ayler's Ghosts Live at the Yellow Ghetto. The record dropped in November of last year and features liner notes from Byron Coley (the rock critic behind Forced Exposure). Recorded in August 2014 and January 2015 at Negative Space in Cleveland, Albert Ayler's Ghosts Live at the Yellow Ghetto was produced by the band and John Delzoppo and features eight tracks of weirdo Cleveland noise, including a cover of the title track "Ghosts" by free jazz artist Albert Ayler. The album features John Morton (founder of X__X) on guitar, vocals, theremin, didgeridoo, and electric sitar, Andrew Klimeyk on guitar and vocals, Craig Bell on bass, and Matthew Harris on percussion. After recording Albert Ayler's Ghosts Live at the Yellow Ghetto and a few one-off shows, the band decided to book a tour and recruited Lamont "Bim" Thomas (of This Moment in Black History, Bassholes, and Obnox fame) on drums.
Thomas is also a relic of the Cleveland noise/art-punk scene, releasing multiple full-length albums a year through labels like 12XU, Smog Veil, and ever/never under the name Obnox. Just as X__X dabble in all sorts of genres to create their brand of not-easily-digestible music, Obnox has also been known to enter some weird territory, taking elements of hip-hop, roots rock, and heavy metal into the recording studio while being beholden to none. While still considered underground, Thomas is no doubt reaching legendary status with his creative output. He's collaborated with artists like Orville Neeley (Bad Sports, OBN III's) and toured the country numerous times, performing at festivals like SXSW, U+N Fest, and Gonerfest in the process. Yes, it's safe to say that Obnox and X__X were made for each other, making this pairing of left-field instrumentalists that much more exciting. Seeing as both Thomas and the gents from X__X call Cleveland home, my only question regarding this collaboration would be: What took so long?
Rounding out the bill is one of the best bands to come out of the Memphis punk scene in years, the never-normal powerhouse known as True Sons of Thunder. While the band was seemingly on every local show during their early years (a time when bands like Dead Trends, Staags, and Sector Zero represented a small but talented punk scene), it wasn't until True Sons of Thunder dropped the now-classic Spoonful of Seedy Dudes LP that non-Memphians started paying attention. In a 2013 interview with the Flyer, True Sons of Thunder guitarist Joe Simpson summed up the band's existence rather concisely:
"We couldn't do this anywhere else. We are a product of this city. At the same time, our music doesn't make sense to the people who live here. The funny thing is, people who don't live here understand what we are doing, but no one here understands it, only we do. That's been the funniest thing: The people who buy our records don't live here. But we don't really care, and maybe that's the most Memphis thing of all. We don't give a shit about being liked."
While it might be true that your average Memphian doesn't understand what True Sons of Thunder are all about, those who did would readily admit that their presence is missed. Thankfully, the band hasn't called it quits for good, and they are usually reliable for a few Memphis appearances a year. The band also has a single on Goner Records and the amazingly titled Stop and Smell Your Face LP, both of which are recommended. This one is going to get weird, so plan accordingly.