Show Review: The Blasters Mix Rockabilly and Rock ‘n Roll at Hill Country Barbecue in DC

Show Reviews

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Roots mainstays The Blasters brought their mix of blues, rockabilly, and early rock ’n’ roll to DC’s Hill Country BBQ Saturday. They even crossed over a little into country with “Precious Memories (I’m The Only Hell Momma Ever Raised),” a fitting call-out to the Johnny Paycheck original. Speaking of tributes, in the only words he spoke other than “thank you,” lead singer Phil Alvin dedicated “American Music” (also the title of the band’s first album from 1980) to the late Aretha Franklin, meeting with enthusiastic applause from the crowd. The Blasters closed their main set with a Zydeco tune, “Marie Marie,” written by Dave Alvin, the band’s original guitarist and chief songwriter.

Phil seemed a little unsteady at first, but by the third song, he had gathered himself, and he sounded just as good as he ever has. Phil is getting on in years, and he’s had some health problems, but there’s absolutely no question that man has a set of pipes. The Blasters have always been a superbly talented group, and they put on a heck of a show.

As t-shirts for sale proclaimed, the Blasters were formed in 1979 in the Alvins’ hometown of Downey, a Los Angeles suburb. (Downey is also the birthplace of famed musical satirist “Weird” Al Yankovic.) In addition to the Alvin brothers, the band consisted of bassist John Bazz and drummer Bill Bateman, and played with legendary saxophonist Lee Allen on most of their albums; he toured with them until he passed away in 1994.  Without getting into the sundry details, Dave left in 1986 to embark on a solo career. After some turnover, Keith Wyatt now occupies the guitarist slot. Over the years, they band has also included the boogie-woogie piano of Gene Taylor and tenor sax player Steve Berlin of Los Lobos.

While the Blasters never had their breakout moment, they were figures on the LA punk and underground scene, and they helped promote the work of other artists and bands who would go on to some very big things. They took Los Lobos and Dwight Yoakam on tour with them, long before they had come anywhere close to national recognition. Yoakam scored a minor hit with a cover of Dave Alvin’s (Blasters) song, “Long White Cadillac.”

Rising rockabilly outfit Lara Hope and the Ark-Tones opened the evening with a rollicking good time that had the audience dancing. The four-piece band—Lara, winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Award for Best Rockabilly Artist, upright bassist Matt “The Knife” Goldpaugh, guitarist Eddie Rion, and drummer Eli Marzano—was the perfect complement to the Blasters with their musical style and youthful energy. Hailing from Kingston, NY, near Woodstock, they’ve been touring extensively with, in addition to the Blasters, the Reverend Horton Heat and Joan Jett. Later this year, they’ll been joining the Brian Setzer Orchestra on its Christmas tour, and will return to DC for a show at the Anthem.

Two particular individuals at Saturday’s concert had a bit too much to drink, and their behavior left something to be desired. I am generally skeptical of anyone who wears a cap backwards, and my suspicions were not allayed. This particular shambling mound of humanity, resembling WWE strongman Braun Stroman albeit gone to fat, complete with a russet tangle bird’s nest of a beard, lost all sense of space, wildly flailing his limbs about with utter disregard for his fellow patrons. A woman, who he described as “one of his best friends,” desperately fled his grabby, alcohol and sweat-soaked palms as he assured me that he’s “not a bad guy.” Meanwhile, his cohort repeatedly shouted “Shaken!” demanding the song from the performers, only to met by their stone-faced intransigence. Frankly, I was glad that they seemed to not even notice him, and that they didn’t reward his tantrum.

Hill Country BBQ first opened in Manhattan in 2007, and is named for the region in central Texas surrounding the state (and live music) capitol, Austin. A small chain, it has expanded to two additional locations: Brooklyn (currently closed for renovations), and Washington, DC. The restaurant offers Texas-style BBQ, made with a salt, pepper, and cayenne dry rub, served with sauce on the side. All locations feature live Americana music acts, and, at the DC location, the lower level serves as a music space. Some acts have no cover charge. In addition to the Blasters, I’ve seen Rod Picott, Chuck Hawthorne, Amanda Anne Platt and the Honeycutters [for a review of that show click one of these bolded words right here]  [For our interview with Amanda Anne Platt click one of these bolded words], Eric Ambel, and Gangstagrass at Hill Country.  Check out their schedule here.  Find info on the Blasters here.  Investigate more on Lara Hope, here.

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