“I was teaching math when I first heard the Sex Pistols,” Phil Alvin told me back in 1983, “and then I said, ‘Allright, good. I can play again.’ So I quit teaching.”
Thank god Alvin caught wind of Johnny Rotten and his band of miscreants, if that’s what it took to get him out of the classroom and up on the stage.
He was up there with his younger brother Dave at the Electric Owl last night, and holy shit—that turned out to be one of the most exhilirating and inspired roots-rock gigs I’ve seen in over 30 years of getting paid to report on such things.
The Alvin brothers are back, baby!
Of course, we all knew they were back in a big way last year when they released Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play & Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy. The album got nominated for a Grammy, but more importantly it showed that Dave and Phil, 59 and 62 respectively, are still a potent force in the world of blues and roots-rock.
Or American Music, as they like to call it.
The show focused mainly on tracks from Common Ground—including famous Broonzy tunes like “Key to the Highway” and lesser-known boogie gems such as “Truckin’ Little Woman”—but also touched on Dave Alvin‘s solo career, with the cinematic “Johnny Ace is Dead” off his 2011 Eleven Eleven disc.
And it wouldn’t be an Alvin brothers gig without the odd breathtaking tune by the band that made them famous, so the Blasters’ “Marie Marie” and “Border Radio” made an appearance.
As I did for the Savoy Brown show a couple months ago, I staked out a place near the corner of the stage, the better to catch the full effect of Dave’s Strat and Fender amp.
Shit, I coulda reached over and took a swig of his Bud Light if I wanted to.
Most of the show I just stood there transfixed by the flawless shit-kicker guitar blasting out at me. Alvin had half a dozen foot pedals at his disposal, but I don’t remember him stepping on one. He went for the pure sound of Fender on Fender, bluesy as fvck, and twangy when he wanted some of that.
He was particularly sa-mokin’ on “Out of Control”, a masterful tale of seedy shenanigans in L.A. that highlighted his 2004 Ashgrove album.
It wasn’t just the Dave and Phil show, though. Their band, the Guilty Ones, was right up there in the same league as the Alvins.
At times guitarist Chris Miller would lay down some searing slide or step on the wah-wah in a way that would catch Dave’s attention and make him grin widely or holler in support. The rhythm section of drummer Linda Pankratz and bassist Brad Forham was unbeatable as well.
I was so blown away by the entire two-hour gig that when it was over I went scrounging on the empty stage and found a beer-mangled setlist that—thanks to the efforts of ace promoter “Rockin” Ronnie Simmons—I got signed by both Alvins.
Now that’s what I call suitable for framing!
Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, you can basically see what the whole show looked like right here:
Note: you can catch the band in Bainbridge Island, B.C. tomorrow (July 2), Seattle’s Tractor Tavern on Friday, and the Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland on Saturday. For tour deets go here.