Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women/The Rousers; August 29, 2010; Orton Park Festival
I’d only been to the Orton Park festival a few times before, and I’d certainly never gone two days in a row, but this year was to be the exception. I was immediately grateful that it was not as crowded as the day before because it was much hotter today. I was looking forward to seeing the once ubiquitous Rousers who are still dependably entertaining these days despite only play once a year or so. I was unsure how I would feel about Dave Alvin’s Guilty Women since I had been a huge fan of his previous backing band the Guilty Men, in particular a certain keyboard player, but I was willing to give them a chance.
I should have known that Alvin knows what he’s doing. He’s assembled a band with an even more impressive pedigree than his previous one. After seeing Exene Cervenka accompanied by a female pedal steel player at SXSW I commented that I’d never seen a girl play the difficult instrument. I was wrong, the woman who played with Alvin today, Cindy Cashdollar, was a member of Asleep at the Wheel, who I’d seen open for Bob Dylan a decade ago. And she was amazing. The rhythm section was equally qualified. Drummer Lisa Pankratz looked very familiar, and Bill said the Austin-based musician had played more Twangfests than he could remember. She was all business and wore a stern look throughout the show, except when her name was mentioned, only then she would break into a broad grin. Bass player Sarah Brown was much more extroverted, smiling easily through the set. The last member of the band was vocalist Christy McWilson, Scott McCaughey’s wife, who I’d seen Alvin back at the Club Tavern years ago. I wasn’t really a fan of her back then, but I liked her better today especially when her voice blended with Alvin’s. As much as I liked the Guilty Women, I couldn’t help thinking that one Guilty Man on keyboards would have added a lot.
Back in June, John Doe claimed that he couldn’t do “The Fourth of July” just anytime because it was a seasonal song. Luckily that night we were only two weeks away from the National holiday. Apparently Alvin, the song’s author, has no such qualms and he opened with it tonight. The rest of the set selected classics from his career and from his 2009 release with the Guilty Women. As always, his powerful and strangely soothing voice was the drug that kept me entertained and anxiously awaiting the next song in the set. The very first time I saw Alvin, on a bill with Richard Thompson at the Barrymore, he was joined on stage by Madison’s Frank Furillo of the Rousers. Back then I thought that was pretty cool, but I didn’t know that Furillo and Alvin went to Catholic School together in California, and that Alvin credits Furillo with getting him into music and starting his music career. Every time I’ve seen Alvin since, Furillo has guested on harmonica.
It’s even easier for Furillo on nights like tonight when his band had played on the Orton Park stage just prior. When I first moved to Madison they were one of the bands that I saw several times a year. Now it seems two or three years go by without a chance to see them. I can’t even remember the last time I saw them, but they hadn’t changed a bit. After Furillo, the most easily recognized member of the band is guitarist D. Ernie Connor, who still sports a duck-tail and wears it well. His guitar playing has always been one of the highlights of seeing the band, but his weapons of choice are always worth taking note of. In addition to his trademark Rickenbacker, he also used an interesting looking pale purple, lilac in fact, colored guitar that I couldn’t identify. Like all of his instruments it sounded great. The fans certainly haven’t forgotten the band and they enjoyed some of the most enthusiastic dancers of the day in front of the stage.
This is what living on the East side is all about.
Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women