Dave Alvin & the Guilty Ones/Sam Llanas; March 2, 2012; High Noon Saloon
I’ll always take a Friday or Saturday house concert over a weeknight, but I actually passed on doing the Bottle Rockets tonight solely because I really wanted to see Dave Alvin. I had missed him when he was in town back in July and I didn’t want to miss him again tonight. I’ve seen him many times over the years, dating all the way back to a show at the Pres House with Chris Smither, and he’s never disappointed. Of course, I did like it a little better when he was backed by the Guilty Men, rather than the following incarnation the Guilty Women or his current band the Guilty Ones. But that might be because I am a big fan of keyboardist Joe Terry.
Tonight’s band certainly served him well. Stern looking drummer (and Guilty Woman) Lisa Pankratz is as solid and no nonsense as they come. Apparently she is also quite hot, according to a friend standing near me. Her husband, bass player Brad Fordham, has a distinguished air about him; perhaps it was his resemblance to Timothy Dalton in his role as Rassilon in Dr Who. (Wait, was that too nerdy?) The same friend was relieved to see another guitar player on stage, apparently just having Alvin wasn’t good enough. He was right, having rhythm player Chris Miller (and Guilty Man) gave Alvin the space to do what he does best, absolutely kill on guitar. As universally accepted as it is that Alvin is an astounding guitar player, what I’m a sucker for is his voice. His hypnotic baritone could tell me anything and I’d believe it, whether he’s speaking or singing. It always seems a shame when I see the Knitters that Alvin doesn’t utter a word.
He did plenty of both tonight, telling the tales behind many of the songs, especially those from last year’s record Eleven Eleven. He told the story of Amy Farris a doomed fiddle player he had known since she snuck into one of his shows as a teenager before playing the sad and hauntingly beautiful “Black Rose of Texas.” Chris Gaffney was another friend lost prematurely and “Run Conejo Run” is a tribute to him. He referenced his long running love/hate relationship with his brother Phil (who appears on record in the hilarious duet “What’s up with Your Brother?”) before launching into the Blasters’ classic “Marie Marie” claiming that Phil always sang it better, but at least he remembers the words. He hit on many other highlights from the record, including the labor victory song “Gary, Indiana” (not that one) and the runaway travelogue of “Harlan County Line.” He didn’t forget the classics either. The title track to King of California was another highlight, and I finally picked that record up tonight. Apparently, thankfully, there is no seasonal limitation on his anthemic “Fourth of July.”
He was also very complimentary to opener Sam Llanas, formerly of the BoDeans (who I had coincidentally just seen less than a week before) calling him a great songwriter that he had always admired. Since leaving the BoDeans Llanas has had a high profile in his home state of Wisconsin. He played the Café Carpe in Ft Atkinson two weeks before I saw him with Steve Forbert and he mentioned during his opening set tonight that he planned to be back in Madison in April. He was solo at the Carpe, but had a full band with him tonight, a bunch of kids who were very enthusiastic to be backing Llanas on his hits like “Runaway” and songs from his solo records. The drummer in particular couldn’t have been happier to be there, and I found myself watching him most of the set. It’s nice to have Sammy back.
Dave Alvin & the Guilty Ones