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Dave Alvin celebrates early

Johnny D's, Somerville, Mass., June 22, 2011

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Dave Alvin's decision to commence his show with one of his best known songs, Fourth of July, was certainly a risky move. Artists, of course, usually save the crowd pleasers until the very end. But maybe this was a blatant sign of confidence from Alvin, who reworked the song a bit, making it a lot softer at least at the start.

In effect, he said to the sold-out crowd that he wasn't afraid to start with a chestnut because his other songs mattered too.

Whatever the reason, starting with Fourth of July was not a bad decision by Alvin, and yes he did show that his other material was up to snuff.

Perhaps it had another advantage - it engaged the crowd from the get go. Engage them in something tried and true and really good, and they're yours for the rest of the night.

Given that he played for two hours, Alvin threw in songs from throughout his career, including "Eleven Eleven," which was released the day before. The new CD was a bit different than previous efforts in that it's more bluesy.

Alvin, affable and confident on stage, played a chunk of the new CD, including just the second song of the night, Harlan County Line with bluesy vocals amidst a driving sound and slide guitar from Chris Miller.

He later also offered a tribute to his late musical brother Chris Gaffney on Run Cornejo Run from the new disc. He paid homage to the late Amy Farris, a member of his Guilty Women group, on Black Rose of Texas. Both were very heartfelt and in sharp contrast to the generally good, positive feel of the evening.

During the closing song of the regular set, Marie Marie from his former band the late great Blasters, Alvin introduced the backing trio. He called ace drummer Lisa Pankratz a "killer killer drummer." He went on to say that he's had a lot of fine drummers throughout his career, but she was the best. The fact was Alvin sold the rest of his band short. He could have applied the word "killer" to the entire band.

Alvin let the band, the Guilty Ones, play, not afraid to extend the songs to their natural conclusion and not padding the songs either. In fact, he played only 16 songs over the course of 2 hours, although they did not drag out either.

Alvin had enough chops, songs and interaction to make for a winning concert on his own, but it sure helped having Pankratz along with bassist Brad Fordham and Miller. All three added immensely to the show. Miller supplied sturdy guitar leads, while Fordham combined with Pankratz for an active rhythm section. Pankratz was especially on target in adding just the right beat, sometimes figuring it out as the song went along.

With July 4th not all that far away, this night certainly felt like a celebration of excellent music.

Los Straitjackets from Nashville opened. Catching just about 15 minutes of their set, Los Straitjackets demonstrated keen musical abilities delving into twangy surf rock.

They're gimmicky in that each of the four wears a mask. Why they feel compelled to hide behind the masks when their music does the job just fine was a mystery. One got the sense that they're a bit on the predictable side, but nevertheless the sound was enjoyable.