Dave and Phil Alvin & the Guilty Ones @ Whelans Tuesday April 12, 2016

This was a really good gig with a good crowd. So much so that the upstairs balcony had to be opened. It started at 8:45 and ended just over two hours later after 3 encores and the audience looked like they would have happily stayed an all night.

The two opening numbers were from the excellent Common Ground Big Bill Broonzy tribute album the brothers released two years ago. Dave introduced big brother Phil, making his Irish debut, although Dave Alvin has been a frequent Irish visitor. The music was very varied with several songs from the new album Lost Time including Late Date favourite World’s in a Bad Condition, the sly Oscar Brown Jr tune Mr Kicks and Big Joe Turner’s Cherry Red Blues, which Dave introduced with memories of meeting Big Joe when he was just a kid in Downey California following in big brother Phil’s broad shoulders and adventurous musical footsteps. Dave did all the talking – Phil said not a word – and indeed Phil looked alarmingly frail, but his singing was mighty, as was his harmonica playing.

The band was Dave’s wonderful Guilty Ones; Lisa Pankratz on drums, Brad Fordham on bass and Chris Miller on second lead and slide guitar. Pankratz is simply one of the best drummers around, Fordham’s bass lines are full and just right, while Chris Miller’s playing, especially his slide work, leaves me breathless and wanting more. Dave is an incredible guitarist; I’ve seen him and the band several times recently at the late lamented Johnny D’s in Somerville, Massachusetts and he just gets better and better while somehow making it seem effortless. He is also amusing and good at spinning a mood when introducing songs. When it came to the encore he was exceptionally articulate in dedicating Kern River not only to ‘the finest songwriter California ever produced’ but also to his friend Steve Young another fine songwriter who has never received full credit for his work.

The third and last encore, after Kern River and Marie, Marie was a fabulous rambling version of Turn on your Love Light with several songs (among them When the Saints go Marching In) interpolated into the coda, led by Phil’s harmonica. You really had to be there … and the next time they come back – you should be.

Review by Sandy Harsch  Photograph by Declan Culliton