It’s not very often that you can roll into a concert with sky-high expectations, and have them soundly and decidedly exceeded. But Dave Alvin managed to do just that at The State Room Friday night.
Accompanied by his stellar backing band The Guilty Ones, Alvin rocketed through songs spanning his career as a roots-rock pioneer, a run that stretches back to the ’70s when he formed the Blasters with his brother, Phil, through a stint in X in the ’80s and then a long-running solo career.
Alvin opened with “4th of July,” a song X turned into an almost-hit with their John Doe-sung version, and Alvin totally reclaims ownership of the tune when he plays it live. From the get-go, the combination of Alvin’s pliable voice–he easily shifts from deep, bass-y growls to rockabilly shouts–and raucous guitar-playing proved a potent one-two punch. Throw in a band featuring the slippery slide-guitar of Chris Miller interweaving through Alvin’s guitar parts and it was truly a treat to witness what was happening on stage. Drummer Lisa Pinkratz and bass player Brad Porter rounded out Alvin’s Guilty Ones.
Alvin followed “4th of July” with “Harlan County Line,” a song familiar to some from its presence on the TV show Justified and part of Alvin’s most recent album, Eleven Eleven. From there it was a deep dive into one of the strongest American songwriting catalogs of the past 30 years. Old Blasters faves like “Long White Cadillac” and “Marie Marie” settled in easily next to newer fare like “Black Rose of Texas” and “Ashgrove.”
“Johnny Ace is Dead,” another new song, was a definite highlight, as was “King of California.” “Abilene” erupted into a lengthy instrumental workout–and this is one band that’s a pleasure to watch stretch out. Alvin standing on stage, legs splayed apart and ripping into his Stratocaster–that’s an iconic image for roots-rock fans that never gets out, which makes all the more sense because Alvin’s music is so timeless. The guy is a serious music historian, mining old stories of blues legends like Big Mama Thornton and the aforementioned Johnny Ace for lyrical content, and then putting those lyrics to sounds invoking folk, rock, country, R&B–you name it. As Alvin puts it on his Website, there is both loud folk music and soft folk music, and he plays both kinds.
Opening the show was the Hollering Pines, a relatively new Salt Lake City band made up of members of The Folka Dots and The Trappers. The harmonies of Marie Bradshaw, Kiki Sieger and Corinne Gentry that make the Folka Dots such a pleasure to hear are in full effect in the classic-country sound of the Hollering Pines, and when you add a male counterpart to the mix via the Trappers’ Dan Buehner, you get a winning combination. Definitely a band to keep an eye on.
Dan Nailen has written about music, arts and culture in and around Salt Lake City for Salt Lake magazine, The Salt Lake Tribune and Salt Lake City Weekly since 1998. He's currently a contributor to saltlakemagazine.com, and you can find more of his work at SLCene.com.