LIVE: Dave & Phil Alvin With the Guilty Ones @ the Iron Horse Music Hall, 3/22/15
Review by Bokonon
You might have thought it was a Penn and Teller thing, the way Dave spoke and Phil stood still. It was even more of a magic act when Phil did step up to the mic and sing out in that holy shit voice of his. Good lord, what a magnificent instrument.
Right after, though, he’d take a step back and go silent again. So it went for most of the show, with the younger sibling serving as some sort of almost nervous emcee.
Phil and Dave Alvin exploded on the world in 1981 with the Blasters’ self-titled disc, a crackling, bracing slab that felt like a rockabilly mickey of pills and booze. They’d had a local album and had built a strong Southern California following, but the Blasters felt like an alarm call, putting roots rock on a map that was just being drawn.
By 1985, they were asunder, with the Alvins literally at fisticuffs over everything from chord changes to management and typical brotherly bullshit.
Phil’s near death (truth be told, he did die and was revived) experience in Spain in 2012 drew Dave close again and now the pair is riding the road in support of the excellent Grammy-nominated tribute Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy.
If you don’t know Bill Broonzy, you should, and Common Ground is a great place to start.
The Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton would have been an even better place, but if you weren’t there, you missed it. So long, baby, goodbye.
As noted, the vibe was a little weird, with Dave going at once more showbiz and more sentimental than he’s prone. It’s a mean, mean thing to say, but with all the love flying around the room, you were almost waiting (maybe hoping, you rotten little bastard) for the punch to back of the head. But it never came.
Heart punches did. And plenty…
The Broonzy material is right at the center of the Blasters’ elemental sound, with Big Bill’s quintessential commercial blues grooves providing a strong basis in the boogies, shuffles and rockabilly grooves that still underlie Dave Alvin’s magnificent songwriting.
At the Iron Horse, “All By Myself” opened like a shot, “Key to the Highway” took the gray hairs in the crowd to Clapton and back and “Truckin’ Little Woman” leered and rocked. This was not a duo thing, kids, but a full band roar, with Austin’s Lisa Pankratz on the skins, Brad Fordham on the bass and Chris Miller on lead guitar every bit the equal of Dave Alvin’s sturm and twang. Pankratz alone is one of music’s simply joys. If it’s not needed, she just doesn’t play it.
Still, as blazing as Alvin’s yellow Strat got on Blasters’ classics like “Border Radio” and “Marie Marie,” the real truth of the night came out of Phil’s mouth. For a visual accompaniment, check out the cover of that 1981 disc. The senior Alvin’s voice can pierce steel. It’s a tuneful pit bull bark in the most glorious way. A signal. A cry. An echo of the blues since time began. Man!
Phil did eventually speak. Thankfully, he showed reserve, not quite digging into the Philadelphia that Dave doled out. But one sensed he was grateful for his renewed time on earth, his renewed bond with family and for another chance to sing.
For that, we are grateful, too.