My weekend with the Alvins

I got to see Dave and Phil Alvin perform. Great performers. Dave is one of my favorite songwriters and a guitar hero. Phil still, at 65, posses that big voice and informs each lyric with all of his experience, intelligence, soul, and fire. They have created some of the best music starting with the band The Blasters and also through two records recorded as a duo. Oh and I saw them last Friday and Saturday in Pittsburgh. Separately.

Despite being brothers and still working together, they are out on separate tours, AGAIN. They initially broke up in 1985 when Dave left the band they had founded, The Blasters. They first reunited on a more ongoing basis after Phil died. That’s correct. While on tour in Paris, Phil had a health scare and briefly died before being brought back. Dave figured it was time to fully bury the hatchet and expand the reunion that had begun somewhat tentatively on the duet “What’s Up With Your Brother,” that was released on Dave’s stellar 11-11-11 record the year before.

They released two duet albums of covers of old blues songs that were greeted with acclaim including a grammy nomination. They did two tours backed by the Phil’s current band, The Guilty Ones …. And then they went their separate ways. Many people at the Blasters Show on Friday at the Hard Rock though the reunion had segued into Dave rejoining the Blasters but it had not. Phil continued with two other original Blasters and “new guy” Keith Wyatt (25 years in band).

Dave chose to make a record with long time friend but first time collaborator Jimmie Dale Gilmore. The resulting record, Downey to Lubbock, is currently number one on the blues charts. They have been on tour promoting it since its release earlier this year.

My weekend with the Alvins began with the Blasters show on Friday. A full full house greeted them at The Hard Rock Café at station square. The band has released two albums since Dave left the band 33 years ago. Those records were represented by two or three mid set songs. The rest of the songs were written by Dave Alvin (who was in Columbus with Gilmore and the Guilty Ones at the same time).

Phil looks every bit of his 65 years, but still has all the fire in his voice as he did 42 years ago when The Blasters were tearing up LA right alongside the punk scene there. The tight 4 piece band gave a high energy set that was heavy on “hits” … ok crowd favorites. Curiously the crowd did not ask for an encore.

Phil did not mention his brother, to the best of my knowledge. His crowd addresses were brief and hard to hear in the crowded loud club. I would find out later, that he was well aware of his brother’s impending Pittsburgh visit.

Dave has worked with many bands since leaving the Blasters. He was in X and the Knitters. His backing bands have been the Guilty Men, The Guilty Women, and currently The Guilty Ones. I was glad they recorded the new record with him and accompanied Jimmie Dale Gilmore and him on this tour. They are a crack backing band and sympathetic to the sound Alvin puts out.

They opened with one of the two originals on the new record, the title track. I would love to give a review of that and the second song, but I was late due to a protest shutting down Carson Street. Yes Dave was a mere 13 blocks from where his brother played the night before. Club Café is much more a concert venue than The Hard Rock so the sold out crowd was closer and able to hear everything.

The men ripped through a set of songs from the new record as well as Gilmore and Dave Alvin songs. They introduced the songs with extended stories that showed their long friendship as well as symbiotic musical connection. Almost like they were brothers.

Dave mentioned his brother several times in loving teasing fashion. At one point he even said, “I know my brother played down the street. I heard all about it ….. from him… a lot.”

About a third of the set was Dave Alvin originals. That contrasted interestingly with 80 % of the songs the night before. So I saw more Dave Alvin songs Friday without Dave than I did at the Dave Alvin show.

So you may think I want them to get back together, but I don’t,. I love their solo excursions. I’d like to see them keep separate and keep moving forward. Either way I wont miss their shows here or anywhere wihtin driving distance. A weekend with the Alvins apart is still a great weekend in Pittsburgh or anywhere.

Zeke is Pittsburgh Beautiful’s music guru.  See his take on Pittsburgh’s Top Five Songs here.


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