It’s been six or seven years since Dave Alvin last toured the UK so this was a highly anticipated show by yours truly and it more than lived up to expectations! Alvin’s website says ‘there are two types of folk music: quiet folk music and loud folk music. I play both’. He did just that but drew on his rockabilly, blues, Americana and roots sensibilities too to deliver an unforgettable night of music on his first ever visit to Brighton.
The ‘Guilty Ones’ of the title were guitarists Chris Miller and Brad Fordham and drummer Lisa Pankratz who ‘kicked Alvin’s butt’ on every song. Experienced and accomplished musicians, clearly enjoying themselves on stage they transmuted that feeling to the audience who pretty much filled the room. A few brave souls got up from their seats to dance as the evening unfolded.
Opening with Harlan County Line from the latest album ELEVEN ELEVEN (which is about to get an expanded edition release) Alvin set the tone by chatting between songs and speaking affectionately of family and friends, many for whom he’d written songs. Sadly some are no longer with us. Black Rose of Texas was about and dedicated to Amy Farris (a Guilty Woman) who had a history of depression and committed suicide two years ago. Run Conejo Run was about and dedicated to Chris Gaffney, whose death from cancer four years to the day before this show, was another sad loss. Alvin explained that ‘conejo’ means ‘rabbit’ in Spanish and was a nickname given to Gaffney because he was so quick on his feet!
Drawing from a back catalogue including his time with the Blasters, Alvin’s choice of material spanned from his very early days as a writer (brother Phil was the lead vocalist in the Blasters) and moved through to the present day where he has become not only a chronicler and champion of the type of blue collar community he grew up in but also a much loved and highly respected vocalist in his own right.
Abilene saw Alvin and Fordham trade guitar licks, not for the only time tonight - extended instrumental breaks were a feature of more than one song. As such the set-list of twelve songs, including the encores, might have felt short but the performance lasted an hour and forty minutes and in the words of a friend, it was ‘full on’.
Alvin joked that the Stetson he was wearing had been paid for by Dwight Yoakam who had had a hit with Long White Cadillacand his boots paid for by Shakin’ Stevens who had a major hit with Marie Marie – only the fourth song that Alvin had ever written down. That’s what I mean about going back to his early days.
As the 11pm curfew drew near, Alvin received a signal that time was pressing and that prompted people to shout out requests – he could have played all night long in an effort to satisfy them all.
He chose The Fourth of July when he and the band returned for an encore, then a snatch of Blue Wing and finally an instrumental of So Long Baby Goodbye closed the evening. He left the stage whilst the Guilty Ones played on. Curfew? What curfew?
The tour continues and reader I am going to see him again on Friday in London – having waited so long for Alvin to return to the UK one show was never going to be enough for me! He laughingly observed that because of the long gaps between visits the next time he comes over he might be up on stage in an urn! No no no! Jela Webb
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