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Concert review: Dave and Phil Alvin and the Guilty Ones at The State Room

by on August 23, 2014


If any of the animosity that led Dave Alvin to leave his brother Phil and their old band The Blasters behind back in the ’80s still exists, it was nowhere to be found at the brothers’ incredible show Friday night at The State Room.

Instead, both took turns praising the other–Dave much more often, as Phil saved his voice largely for his killer lead vocals–as the duo tackled songs from their recent collaboration paying homage to blues dude Big Bill Broonzy, Common Ground, as well as plenty of Blasters tunes, songs from Dave Alvin’s lengthy solo career and other covers.

Common Ground is the duo’s first recording together in about 30 years, and the set was full of the Broonzy covers that brought the Alvins back together. That doesn’t mean the music lacked diversity due to its reliance on songs recorded between the 1920s and 1950s. Quite the contrary, the Alvins did excellent work showcasing the wide range of sounds that can fall under the label of “the blues”–even when the songs all come from one artist. Clearly Broonzy was an incredible talent, and he couldn’t find any better advocates than the Alvins to showcase his legacy.

They opened with the first song on the Broonzy set, “All By Myself,” and it was immediately clear that Phil Alvin is in fine voice at 61, while “little brother” Dave, 58, remains a guitar-hero of the roots-rock scene, able to play any style, acoustic or electric, and bring songs to incredible life.

Dave Alvin did the vast majority of the talking between songs, educating the crowd about Broonzy’s influence on he and his brother, and talking about the different styles of music the man incorporated into his music way back when. Phil plays a pretty mean guitar himself, picking at his acoustic with incredibly long fingers when he’s not blasting on a harmonica, as he did on follow-up “Key to the Highway.” In introducing “Saturday Night Rub,” a vibrant instrumental of Broonzy’s, Dave Alvin informed the crowd that “you’re going to hear a lot of different blues in a lot of different styles,” and he wasn’t lying. The Alvins and the Guilty Ones ultimately played more than two hours.


The first non-Broonzy song was a cover of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Never No More Blues,” a song the Blasters did on their debut album; on Friday, Phil proved a remarkably spry yodeler on its live version. Dave’s “King of California” followed before it was back to more Broonzy as Dave Alvin switched from acoustic guitar to electric for the first time–and stayed there.

“I Feel So Good” and “You’ve Changed” were both excellent, as was “Southern Flood Blues.” The Blasters’ “Border Radio” was easily one of the show’s highlights, in no small part because Dave Alvin told of a Blasters show at the Utah State Fairpark in 1982 that got so crazy, the band jumped in their van after and drove straight back to California rather than spend the night in Utah–“there might have been felonies.”

After telling the crowd the band was going to play extra-long since this was the last tour date for the brothers for a month or so, they ripped through an incredible batch of songs. Phil’s voice stayed true, and Dave’s electric solos just got better and better through songs like “The Stuff They Call Money,” “Truckin’ Little Woman” and “One Bad Stud.”

The encore included a couple of must-plays in “Marie, Marie” and “4th of July,” and the packed venue didn’t seem to lose many fans over the course of the lengthy show. Not only were those on hand treated to an incredible performance–they also got the Alvin brothers to say they plan to make another new album together. That might have been the best thing I heard all night.


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