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Blasters Show Review by Ron Wells; See Dave + Phil at Live Oak This Weekend

June 8, 2014

Live Oak Music Fest Poster 2014Since Dave and Phil Alvin of the Blasters are playing Friday from 9-10:30pm at Live Oak Music Festival this coming weekend, I figured it was about time to post this review by Ron Wells of a recent Blasters concert in Santa Ana, CA. More info on Live Oak follows the review.

The music business is a cruel mistress.

In the late 70’s and early 80’s, so many great bands were playing every night in every kind of club imaginable in LA. Social Distortion, X, Los Lobos, Black Flag just to name a few, and, of course, The Blasters.

And yet the big record contract went to The Knack with “My Sharona.” That band is long gone and easily forgotten, but the others are still standing in one configuration or another.

I saw the Blasters so many times I lost count of those days at The Whiskey, The Palladium, Madame Wongs and so many more clubs, dives, and hole-in-the-wall venues. They were my second favorite American band after Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The Blasters blew the roof off the joint of every time they played, and that was after only one song. Bodies of audience members jumped, rocked and rolled everywhere, as sweat dripped off the walls like some sacred water. 

But those days are long gone. Lee Allen took his sax and shuffled off this mortal coil. Steve Berlin took his sax to Los Lobos, and Gene Taylor took his boogie piano to the Fabulous Thunderbirds among many other bands. The great brother combination of Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin never quite saw eye to eye, and so Dave left to form his own band. 
The Blasters should have been a national treasure. Instead, they were “just” great, and very under appreciated.
So last night, 30+ years later, I found them at  tiny little club 10 miles from my house. The admission was a shocking $5.00 for a Saturday night gig. Go figure.
If you show a little faith, sometimes miracles do happen in this world.
Phil Alvin has had recent health issues, and Dave along with members of X and other musicians got together a few months ago for a benefit concert to cover Phil’s medical bills. (See video below from that show):
With that in mind, I wondered how well Phil was doing and if Dave would show up for this gig. One advertisement showed Dave. One didn’t. Still, word was that Gene Taylor would be playing with the group on this night and that was great news in and of itself.
The band opened with American Music, and it was like being transported at lightning speed back in time to those Whiskey days of yore. Phil sounded great and except for a few more creases in his face, looked like the cover of the Blasters first album on Slash Records. His mouth was wide open and devouring the existing universe, while his eyes were closed and filled with tension, while sweat dripped from his forehead like blood and rain.
Any band around would kill to have an opening group of songs containing “American Music,” “Crazy Baby,” “Border Radio,” “Trouble Bound” and “I’m Shakin’.” This is a complete night for some, and yet the Blasters were just getting started.
“Rock and Roll Will Stand” was a defiant anthem in the face of changing times and tastes, while “Dark Night” was still as terrifying as ever when “hot air hangs like a dead man.”

“Red Rose “was dedicated to Dave who was nowhere to be seen and the lyrics hung out in the open for everyone to think about: “Tonight I wonder where you’ll be/One dead rose is all I see.” Some things may seem to change, but on closer inspection….
The band never let up, the intensity was palpable, and every song faster, stronger, more energetic than the one before it. “So Long Baby, Goodbye.” “Well, Well, Well. Marie Marie. Damn, each one sounded better than the one before, and each one reached out and grabbed you until you screamed for mercy while your body twisted, turned and swayed.
Gene was a welcome addition on this night as his pounding, electric piano boogie just added to the take-no-prisoners attitude of the band. Keith Wyatt on guitar was excellent, but when all is said and done, he wasn’t Dave Alvin with everything that that implies. Dave is a one of a kind player. Enough said. As for John and Bill, nothing has changed. Good luck finding a rock and roll rhythm section this tight and as propulsively driven as that provided by these two.
Critics have said that the main problem with the Blasters is that they are a one note band. That may be true, but that one one barn burning, scorched earth note plays like all the saints and sinners screaming for redemption before the Apocalypse hits.
The band plays fast, hard, and harder, while grabbing every touchstone that blues, rock, western, soul and gospel has to offer. Some people in the audience couldn’t handle the heat, and left early. The rest of us sucked in the energy and power, then prayed for more.

On this night, in this club, a group of not so young men played like their lives depended on it, and maybe that’s the essential truth about the Blasters. They played American music. Hardcore, earth rattling, defiant American music. You can take it or leave it. I chose to inhale it like life itself. My soul was shakin’, I was pantin’, and my breathless prayers carried words of defiance, that rock and roll would never die. Not as long as the Blasters were alive.

Feb. 22, 2014,  The Blasters played from 11-1245 at The Observatory, Santa Ana, CA with band members: Phil Alvin, John Bazz, Bill Bateman, Keith Wyatt.  Guest: Gene Taylor. Review by Ron Wells.
Needless to say, the show Friday at Live Oak with Dave and Phil Alvin will be a rewarding show.
It may not all be blistering rockabilly like the Blasters, however; expect some songs like the one above and the one below from 2014 Record Store Day:
If I’m not performing poetry at the 5 x 5 x 5 x 5 x 5 final performance marathon at the Sylvia White Gallery hosted by John White, I will be there! And if I’m not too tempted by the idea of staying home for Ventura Music Week’s rousing Roadshow Revival tribute to the music of Johnny Cash wiht headliners Los Lobos and other great bands like the Paladins (and hey maybe a surprise guest like an Alvin or two?), well, we’ll make it a weekend, our third annual.
Because not only are Phil and Dave performing on Friday, but the fantastic Dustbowl Revival are doing two sets–one before and one after Dave and Phil. Super fun infectious music you can really dance to–especially if you know how to swing dance! Check them out:
On Saturday, I’d love to dance the night away to J.D. McPherson
Live Oak also has a traditional Sunday morning show by the Cache Valley Drifters that IS. Not. To. Be. Missed. Later that day is La Ceceilia, and the festival closes out with Railroad Earth.
Tickets for Live Oak are still available but expect them to sell out –especially the weekend passes that include camping.
And yes yes yes you do want to camp! It’s a lovely venue! If you camp, it makes it a lot easier to participate in the “acorn roll” where you can run and put your chairs out at the crack of dawn and reclaim them during the course of the day. If you don’t do the acorn roll, the rule at Live Oak is that an empty chair should be used –so if you spy one, you go sit in it!
Live Oak also has a traditional Sunday morning show by the Cache Valley Drifters that IS. Not. To. Be. Missed.
If this is not enough to convince you that you want to go to Live Oak, there’s a children’s are with fun activities and great crafts that kept my son engaged, great families and kids to play with, talent show for kids and I’ll tell you these are some really talented kids.
Finally, if you’re not into bringing your own food and drink and cooking and popping corks and caps yourself, there’s venders selling handmade grub. There’s even wine tasting!
Here’s a great way to explore the line-up for yourself–a list of the bands playing on each day with links to their sites and videos.


Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin with The Guilty Ones      

Grammy Winning Americana, Blues and Roots Rock


Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas
2012 Big Easy Award for Best Zydeco Band.
Dustbowl Revival
An americana roots and jazz collective.
Zongo All Stars CaliCubano! A big, fun, hot afro-caribbean dance band.
Panga Beachy acoustic rock.


JD McPherson

A Renaissance Man/Hepcat Playing American Rock ’n’ Roll and R&B


Marley’s Ghost 25 Years of american
roots music.

The Lions A collection of L.A.’s top ska, soul and reggae musicians and the city’s most popular reggae band.

Blind Boy Paxton Carrying the torch for traditional acoustic blues music.

Boogaloo Assassins An 11-piece boogaloo band, blending latin dance,
R&B and Soul.
Shadowlands Ethereal folk-pop.
Erin Inglish California bangjo sweeetheart.

Steve Key Singer-songwriter.
More to come…


Railroad Earth

Roots and Americana Jam Band

Holly Williams
Critically acclaimed Nashville singer-songwriter.La Santa Cecilia Grammy-winning latin alternative music.
Lily & Madeleine Sweet sister harmonies and contemporary folk.
Eagle Rock Gospel Singers Gospel inspired by blues, indie rock,
folk and bluegrass.
Mendeleyev Singer-songwriter.

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