Concert preview: John D Morton revives art-punks X___X after '40-year hiatus'

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Even John D Morton, the Cleveland-born artist/musician/poet behind X___X (pronounced “ex blank ex”) is having some difficulty comprehending the revived interest in his late-’70s art-punk band, which remained a largely unknown quantity until Finnish label Ektro Records compiled its work for the 2014 release X Sticky Fingers X.

“I don’t understand it, but I don’t need to understand it,” said Morton, who brings X___X to Ace of Cups for a concert on Saturday, May 23. “The record coming out from Finland made us available, but I also think the millennials like what we’re doing. For the first time in my music career I look at these kids and they look at me and we understand each other. Without being too grandiose, it’s like they’re finally catching up with us.”

Morton, who jokingly referred to the long layover as a “40-year hiatus” — “It gave me time to relax,” he cracked — has picked up right where he left off, combining the rugged, caveman thump of primal new songs like “Transmography” (off the forthcoming fall release Albert Ayler’s Ghosts Live at the Yellow Ghetto) with more esoteric sonic experiments like “Tool Jazz,” a song that consists of Morton taking a saw to a length of bamboo.

“I saw the bamboo three times … and when it hits the ground it makes a really nice sound,” Morton said. “We performed it recently, and when we got done the audience just stood there. It was clear they didn’t know what to make of it, but it was great to catch them off guard.”

Morton has always tried to defy convention in both his visual art and in his music (the frontman has also logged time with electric eels and Johnny and the Dicks), and he remains entirely comfortable with making audiences uneasy.

“I always thought it was my job to push the envelope and go beyond. Why would I want to do something someone else has already done?” he said. “But that’s not everybody’s aesthetic. Some people are like, ‘We’ve got something that works. Let’s do it over and over again.’ I don’t see the point in that at all.”

One thing that has remained consistent, however, is the raw emotion that fuels Morton’s work.

“Anger has been one of the biggest problems in my life, and I’ve learned to deal with it so I don’t punch people in the face anymore by channeling it into my music,” said the singer, pointing to things like hypocrisy, racism and war as constant sources of agitation. “Getting a divorce, having bad economics, having a lot of health problems … I still get to play out. If I didn’t have that I would just chuck it in. So I’d say the music is working for me.”

Photo courtesy of the artist

Ace of Cups

9:30 p.m. Saturday, May 23

2619 N. High St., Old North

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