Monday, June 27, 2011

Dave Alvin and Los Straitjackets at Johnny D's

On Wednesday night we crowded into a *packed* Johnny D's for an incredible, ear-toasting musical experience.  We were really psyched about this show and bought tickets as soon as we found out about it; Johnny D's offered a few of their tables with a prix fixe dinner and we snapped that up.  As it turned out we were seated at the very front table, about 5 feet from the bass drum being hammered by Teen Spirit of Los Straitjackets and in danger of being whacked by Eddie's guitar neck when he started with the moves.

Los Straitjackets came out in their Mexican wrestling masks, tortured Spanglish, and matching outfits (that would not have looked out of place on car mechanics).  Their set of power surf-rock started out at a deafening volume level and got louder.  They did some of their patented moves on Casbah, and treated us to some incredibly lyrical guitar fantasies and a medley of Dirty Water, Moon River, The Girl From Ipanema, and lots of other songs.  After a long, raging, and exhilarating set they closed with ... what else ... Batman!  A good time was had by all who were paying attention as the crowd pushed in in waves.

Then their stuff was cleared off and we all settled in for the main act.  Dave Alvin brought a four-piece band with him on guitar, Lisa Pankratz on drums, Brad Fordham on bass, and Chris Miller on rhythm. I know you're probably getting tired of my superlatives, but this was one of the most incredible, enjoyable, rocking shows I've ever seen.  Dave ripped the place up with a gleeful grin ... his guitar was blazing and every time he touched the strings it screamed with the blues.

The background buzz from his amp itself was louder than some of the folk guitarists I've seen, and Dave has a great, teasing way of singing a sly bass lyric and then striking with a steely run that leaves your ears bleeding and your soul begging for more.  And sitting in the front row was the best.  I had only to tilt my head a little and there was Lisa playing drums like you rarely see, with a carnation in her hair and a stoic physiognomy, set like keeping up with (and bettering) Dave was the most important thing on earth.  Tilt my head a little more and there was Brad playing one of his two basses and hitting that bottom faster and louder than you could think (he sang some killer harmonies too I'll bet but we couldn't hear him in the front row due to an oddity of miking).  And off to the right was Chris Miller, doing his best Dicky Betts to Duane Allman, Bob Weir to Jerry Garcia, Mick Taylor to Keith Richard, etc.

They *opened* with 4th of July and then did Harlan County Line and then just blasted through songs from the new album like Johnny Ace Is Dead, new ones like Boss of the Blues (that had everybody raving), Out of Control, and classics like King of California, Dry River, Marie Marie(!), and Abilene (a long, beautiful jam on this one).  They laid back for steaming ballads like Black Rose of Texas (I hadn't known it was written for Amy Farris) and Run Conejo Run (written for Chris Gaffney), then topped off the night with Ashgrove, and then a three-song encore of Dry River, Blue Wing(!!!), and Long White Cadillac(!!!!).  With a few bars left in the song Dave jumped stage and ran for his dressing room like the blues God he is.  What a show!

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