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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Dave Alvin does Kerouac proud

The Knitting Factory, West Hollywood, Cal., May 2, 2002

By Dan MacIntosh

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - After arriving on stage about an hour late, Dave Alvin admitted that he and his six-piece Guilty Men band killed their downtime with more than a little alcohol. He then made the prediction that this would be a sloppy drunk show, rather than one of their more professional ones.

But an Alvin sloppy drunk show is nothing like, say, an inebriated Replacements performance, where the night would sometimes devolve into a blurry mess. Instead, the brew loosened their inhibitions, without ever impairing their musical skills.

Alvin's concert was a part of Beatfest 2002, and in honor of Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation, he read fitting portions of "On The Road" multiple times throughout the night. But instead of just orating his favorite moments from the book, Alvin chose portions that either related to California, or helped introduce his songs. For example, after reading a section where Kerouac describes a night in a seedy LA hotel, Alvin performed his own "Thirty Dollar Room." He called "From A Kitchen Table" an appropriate song for this night, since it tells the story about a man who took to drinking and never moved out of the comfort zone of his family home. Kerouac died an alcoholic and spent his final days living at his mom's house. Later in the set, Kerouac's account of driving through the California's back roads led into Alvin's signature song, "King Of California."

The playing of the Guilty Men made it especially difficult to take these fine musicians for granted. His group included Rick Shea on pedal steel, mandolin and electric guitar, and Chris Gaffney on guitar and vocals, but it was Brantley Kearns who clearly stole the instrumental spotlight on this night. He shone when playing a long and sadly sweet fiddle solo at the end of "Abilene," which tells the tragic tale of a women who hopes that if she just keeps moving, she'll eventually outrun her troubles. The song itself is particularly Kerouac-ian, since the city of Abilene is described in utopian terms, with the desperate hope that life will somehow be better there.

Toward the end, Alvin brought on Christy McWilson, whom he'd just recently produced. Her short stay included singing "The Serpentine River" and a duet with Alvin on the Moby Grape song "8:05," both of which are from her recently released "Bed Of Roses" album. Her smooth femininity provided an appealing contrast to Alvin's rough 'n ready masculine singing.

Kerouac would likely have been proud of Dave Alvin's singing and storytelling during this performance. No doubt, he would have also felt right at home in joining the singer/songwriter for a few drinks before the show, because - while they arrived on this planet many years apart - they were clearly born from the same restless and curious spirit.