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On Inauguration Day, Alvin unites all

McCabe's, Santa Monica, Cal., January 20, 2017

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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On this night of the presidential inauguration, Dave Alvin could have easily and conveniently filled his between song patter with snarky remarks about the new president, who is not a big favorite among artists. But Alvin is smarter than that. Instead, he mostly kept his personal feelings to himself. He also did something completely wonderful and unexpected. He had the McCabe's staff pass out lyrics to Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," and with the house lights up, led the audience in singing this American anthem together. And when he asked audience members to volunteer and sing a verse, one brave woman in the very back stood and boldly sang out the verse of her choice. And what both political parties have (so far) failed to accomplish, Alvin united us all - in song.

Alvin opened with "King of California," and sang - as he always does - many songs rich in history - and more specifically California history. After remarking on how any many ways 2016 has been a bad year, with artists like David Bowie and Leonard Cohen passing away, Alvin sang "Kern River" by Merle Haggard, whom we also lost last year. He then sang his own river song, "Dry River," but not without first mentioning that The Hag once told Alvin he loved this song. Alvin also believes Haggard once recorded the song, but it's never been released.

Another one of Alvin's more moving tributes this night was when he sang the Chris Gaffney song, "In the Garden." Alvin called Gaffney his best friend, before singing this moving song about Gaffney's upbringing in Hawaiian Gardens, Cal. Alvin joked that the area is neither 'Hawaiian' nor any 'garden, and a part of the state this mostly Westside crowd probably doesn't even know about. This locale is a rough, gang-infested region, and by no means the jewel of the Golden State. But without guys like Gaffney and Alvin, most folks would likely remain unaware of it.

Before encoring with "Marie, Marie," a song from his old band, The Blasters, Alvin remarked how he never gets tired of singing many of his songs. And for the audience, the feeling is mutual. Therefore, when he sang "Fourth of July" and "Abilene," which he almost always does, these tunes were as fresh and enjoyable as the first time we heard them.

Accompanied mostly by Rick Shea on guitar and occasional vocals, Alvin sang inspired and played some mighty mean licks on his acoustic guitar. The audience left the intimate guitar shop/turned concert venue with the reminder that this land is, indeed, our land, and thankful we have artists like Alvin to help us comprehend its beauty and various complexities.