Dave Alvin Great American Music and Fantastic Electric Guitar
Dave Alvin, ex-Blaster, guitarist, songwriter, producer, music purveyor, played an explosive dynamic set of rocking bluesy other-side-of-life tunes with his band, The Guilty Men, at the Stephen Talkhouse Sunday July 9, 2006. Everything from “Out of Control” to “Surfer Girl” blessed the ears of the eastern Long Island audience with the touch of Mr. Alvin’s guitar expertise.
Dave Alvin plays one of the finest, most rocking guitars on the planet, I discovered last night when my wife and I were lucky enough to see him at the best music venue on Long Island, Stephen Talkhouse.This was our very first time seeing and hearing Mr. Alvin. An intimate set-up allows about 150 people to hear every note in this Hamptons club, located just a few miles from the ocean. You couldn’t hear the waves last night, as you sometimes can there, but Dave Alvin just got better and better with each song played, so what did it matter? [Blues guitarist Johnny Copeland once played there and wafted some of the finest surf guitar I ever heard, accompanying the mist muting the hiss and pound of distant, audible Atlantic Ocean waves.]
Alvin’s solos were extended, innovative, delicious, delightful, gritty, juicy, bluesy, jazzy and most and best of all, the height of what rock and roll guitar should be. Surprising, lovely, but jamming solid as his riffs just grew and extended, exciting the fortunate crowd cheering him on. Though on some softer tunes, his wound was magically toned and plain beautiful. The entire band was terrific, especially the keyboard player, Chris Miller the other guitarist, who also sat at the pedal steel guitar and wafted in some additional unique melodic sounds, Gene Boaz, the longboard surfer and bassist from Hollywood, and the drummer.
The show started with a softly sung beginning of “Border Radio,” perhaps Mr. Alvin’s best known song. From there songs from his May, 2006 released “West Of The West” CD, featuring California songwriters, mixed in with other material, mostly written by Dave A hisself.
Some of the rocking highlights were from his 2004 CD entitled “Ashgrove,” which has lines like:
“Well I can?t say I been all sinner
Can?t say I been all saint
I?ve done some good deeds and I?ve made big mistakes
I been in and out of love
Said words I regret
I been drunk, been sober
Smoked too many cigarettes
And I?m out on this highway travelin? town to town
And the news on the radio just brings me down
Intolerance and fear
Ignorance and lies
It?s the same old same old I heard a million times
And I?m thinkin? of friends and lovers
And how they come and go
Like look-alike houses on the side of the road
Full of everyday people tryin? to get ahead
Tryin? to find a reason just to get out of bed
?Cause we all need somethin? just to get us through
Well I?m gonna play the blues tonight man
?Cause that?s what I do.”
The Ashgrove was apparently not a grove of trees, but
a club somewhere in the smog of the San Bernadino valley, from whence Mr. Alvin comes. Where his mama told him he had California Bloodlines, as noted on his West of the West liner notes.
The song cooks, has a deep bluesy powerful drive to it, and tells of his troubador lifestyle, travelin’ from town to town, a la Woody Guthrie and our other American bards. And also his smoking of cigarettes, which has adversely affected his singing in that his voice has lost strength and brilliance. But you know those cigarette addicts. At least, he did not smoke during the show [not allowed at the Talkhouse, except for exclusively blues shows, last I heard].
P.S. From the song out of control comes the lines:
And my old man smoked himself
Into a six-foot hole in the ground.
So, watch that smoking, even in your California Bloodlines.
However, think not that his singing or anything else could detract from his guitaring, which came out in every throbbing and also loverly tune. “Out of Control” was perhaps the hottest tune of all, about a poor sucker whose lady has to put “on a show for some chump” in a motel
“Yeah, well baby?s gotta make a livin?
And I don?t mind waitin? out in the car
?Cause I got some nine millimeter muscle
In case things go too far.
You know I try to take it easy man
And just go with the flow
But sometimes things can get a little bit
Out of control.”
Get that Ashgrove CD to hear this one played close to the way it sounded on July 6th at the Talkhouse.
Mr. Alvin apologized “for being a little late for this one,” as he introduced the uptempo “Fourth of July” which was wonderful to be amidst during the days so proximate to Independence Day. That song was actually released in the mid-1980’s on his “Romeo’s Escape” album, which I have on vinyl.
From the West Of The West CD, the band played Jerry Garcia’s [remember him? yep, that beeg guy who looked like an appliance repairman, and was King of the Deadheads. Grateful Dead, OK….] tune called “Loser” and the guitar in this version also was magnificent, the overall energy churning and impelling feet to stomp and hands to clap, and Talkhouseans to dance and yell out encouragement. [Another version is done by a band called Cracker, also excellent. And they may be coming to the Talkhouse sometime this summer!!!!! Don’t miss them, with David Lowry, ex-Camper Van Beethoven co-lead singer.]
Then there was a not so good a version of the late Kate Wolf’s “Here In California.” In which worldly advice is given to the singer by her/his mother about not marrying until you know your mind. Ms. Wolf, whose music I love, passed away at the age of 44, I believe, from ovarian cancer, and put out lots of intelligent folky tunes including “Unfinished Life.” Check into her stuff, with the availability of them on the internet helping out. Or, even better, patronize your local music store. A cultural center for your community.
Mr. Alvin missed the female harmony/vocal in this tune, provided on “West” by Christy McWilson. Similarly, his credit to Brian Wilson turned out to be his version of
“Surfer Girl.” Both tunes suffered from lack of bright singing. But, still, there were those beautiful guitar flashes and glistenings.
For his encore, Mr. Alvin came out solo and did a very staccato version of “King of California,” the title cut from an early 1990’s release. Then he rocked out a final tune I cannot recall at this pernt, but if’n it comes to me, I will add it to this commentary.
Anyway, get yourself the Ashgrove CD, is what I recommend. It has four lovely tunes on it that I am coming to LOVE: “Everett Rouse” about a wild kid that died 60 years ago; “Nine Volt Heart” about a kid and a radio, a kid that must be Dave who grew up in LA, and then there is “Man In The Bed” with the lyrics that go:
“I?m the man I?ve always been
I?m the kid who rode the rails through the Great Depression
I fought in the big war and marched for the Union
I?m the man I?ve always been.
So don?t believe what the doctors say
They?re just makin? things up so they can get paid
Yeah, and it ain?t me they?re talkin? about anyway
So don?t believe what the doctors say.” because he really is the man in the bed.
Last tune is the cosmic soft “Somewhere In Time” which Mr. Alvin did perform on July 6th in Amagansett.
“Black Sky” is a terrific guitar rocker, number three tune on the Ashgrove CD.
You can go to Mr. Alvin’s website to see more, see all the lyrics to Ashgrove, get yourself acquainted with one of America’s treasures on the musical/troubador front.
If he comes near your town, go see him. You will be ecstatified by the experience! And he probably will come back to the Talkhouse, perhaps next year.
Check their website, if you want to get yourself on the right side of the tasting table. They have a schedule component/page. Adrian Belew comes in early August, a guitarist formerly of King Crimson, and even better, for me, the Bears, a band that did a fantastic idiosyncratic tune called “Fear Is Never Boring.”