By Allan Lavis
Date / Venue: Thursday April 2nd, The Tuning Fork, Auckland
Those of us who were at the Tuning Fork on the evening of April 2nd witnessed a unique and vital musical event. Dave Alvin is one of the great storytelling songwriters, one who brings melody, rhythm and lyric together to create atmospheric and compelling work. Older brother Phil has one of the most distinctive and interesting voices in the roots music genre. Together they were the heart of the legendary Blasters who brought together blues, country and rockabilly with a dash of punk sensibility to kick start the roots music movement. It is certainly worth checking out the early history of the Alvin brothers and their relationship with some of the original blues greats who had retired to California. You can't go wrong with anything by the Blasters, Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women or Dave Alvin and the Guilty Ones.
The music on the evening drew mostly from Common Ground; the brothers' recent tribute to Big Bill Broonzy. There were also songs from Dave's Eleven Eleven album and a couple of Blasters classics.
Phil's voice while a little ragged and eventually shot by the end of the gig, was full of passion and bite. Dave's guitar playing with his unique thumb pick and finger style was fiery, inventive and dynamic.
Dave Alvin's relaxed and familiar way of relating to the audience between songs was a delight and you know this guy would have great stories to tell over beer or two. There was humour in the performance as well, with quotes from standards like 'Fly Me To The Moon' thrown into an extended Dave Alvin blues solo and a look of amused shock from the band when brother Phil quoted it back to him during his acoustic solo. Phil played some great harmonica and occupied centre stage like a tried but unbroken Clint Eastwood.
The Guilty Ones, comprised of Lisa Pankratz on drums, Brad Fordham on bass and Chris Miller on guitar were indeed guilty of providing strong and sympathetic support to the Alvin Brothers. All fantastic and accomplished players in their own rights. Despite annoying bass amp problems (which necessitated Brad bypassing his amp and going direct toward the end of the concert) and Phil's vocal difficulties, this was a special occasion and the crowd were very vocal in their appreciation. I would be first in line if they came here again and would press gang as many family and friends as I could into going.
One Stratocaster guitar and one Fender amp each for the guitar players, one bass and one amp and cab for the bass player, a simple drum kit for the drummer and one acoustic guitar and two harmonicas for the singer. That was all that was needed to make magic on the night.
The venue was excellent, the staff first rate and generally the sound just right.