Last Thursday night, the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA was once again hopping; this time it was to the music and storytelling of career musician/guitarists Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, backed by the Guilty Ones: Lisa Pankrantz on drums, Brad Fordham on bass and Chris Miller on guitar.
Opening duo Dead Rock West freatured Cindy Wasserman (sister of Rob Wasserman of Jerry Garica band) initially a capella in silver heeled saddle shoes and Frank Lee Drennan joined in a white suit jacket. They sang sometimes dark songs, like “Darkness Never Tells,” and a few songs off their recent release More Love (Omnivore Records) “Boundless Fearless Love,” “Stereo,” and “Radio Silence.” Their vocals combined wonderfully in several Everly Brothers songs, like “Cathy’s Clown,” “Chained to a Memory,” and “Long Time Gone,” as well, and left the audience feeling excited.
The band came on in a flash of light like a sky full of fireworks, leading with the title track from their new release Downey to Lubbock (Yep Roc) [to read our review of this album, click one of these bolded words right here,] The next one was a Gilmore song, “Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown,” and every head in the room was nodding along.
On the third song, Alvin’s “Johnny Ace is Dead,” Brad Fordham stepped up his finger pace on the Jazzmaster bass as he stepped forward from the shadows for the audience to get a closer look. The band finally took a breather while they tuned their guitars, and Alvin told the crowd: “I think I’m the first person to say to Jimmie Dale, as of Tuesday, ‘you have a #1 record on the Billboard Blues Charts.'” The duo then told the first of several stories together, before playing a song written by Steve Young, that they had recently discovered something about. 30 years ago, Young had brought that song to Alvin, saying he had written the song for him; and around the same time, Young brought it to Gilmore saying he wanted him to sing it. When they recently realized they had this past experience in common, the obvious choice was play and sing it together: “Silver Lake.” Memphis Jug Band’s “Stealin’ Stealin” had grins from ear to ear on the audience’s faces. And then it was the X song, “Fourth of July.” The storytelling and the banter between Alvin and Gilmore was endearing and felt like sitting around a campfire, only with a few more lights and a lot more great music.
Before the next song, Dave Alvin said “this one goes out to D.J. Fontana — Elvis Presley’s drummer had died the day before — and they sang a really moving Woody Guthrie’s “Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).” During some tuning of his guitar, Gilmore told the story of the time Les Paul was onstage with Andres Segovia; and someone had asked why had Les Paul tuned his guitar so many times, but Segovia had tuned his only once? As legend has it, Les Paul responded, “because he doesn’t give a s–t!” Next song was Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” and then Alvin’s “Billy the Kid and Geronimo” with Jimmie Dale on harmonica. Alvin then launched into “Dry River,” which ended in an extended drum solo by Lisa Pankrantz in a sea of white stage lights. The band invited the openers back on stage to sing “Get Together,” which was a lovely rousing version with everyone singing including guitarist Chris Miller, and then Alvin played “Dallas,” solo. If that wasn’t enough for you, and the crowd clearly wanted more, the band returned to play 4, yes you read that right, 4 encores: Sam Cooke’s “Bring it On Home To Me,” Butch Hancock’s “My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own,” and the Blasters’ “Marie, Marie,” and then brought the house down with “Downey to Lubbock (reprise). Find tour dates here. http://www.davealvin.net/