The Blasters, Dingwalls, London
Monday 04 August 2003
It is 17 years since Dave and Phil Alvin last put aside sibling antipathy and played in London. Phil the barrel-shaped figure holding the centre-stage spot has spent many of the years in between studying maths rather than the intricacies of bar band blues and rockabilly. This fact is borne out by more than his appearance.
Younger brother Dave meanwhile is a lean, seasoned road horse. The Blasters lead songwriter and a lethal, sharp-shooting guitarist he has carved out an impressive solo niche exploring the hinterlands of roots rock America since the group's demise. In recent times Phil's attempts to revive the band always floundered until Dave decided to give it another go - for old times sake.
What attracted Dave back into the fold wasn't brotherly love; they barely acknowledge each other's presence all evening. But with their original line-up - drummer Bill Bateman, bassist John Bazz andpianist Gene Taylor - in finer fettle than ever, the opportunity was evidently too good to miss.
Blooded in a rich cross-cultural mix of blues and soul, rock and punk, The Blasters were a direct dynamic link to Fifties R&B in the early Eighties. The connection still holds strong when they fire into the opening "Red Rose". The expressway that leads through Chicago roadhouse blues to The Clash and on to Queens of the Stone Age has never sounded so real, so powerful.
The Blasters are ridiculously good: they play Pub Rock Of The Gods. On "Long White Cadillac" they really do blast off to distant musical worlds, Dave unleashing a euphoric machine-gunning guitar run while Phil's jarring bellow summons up the ghost of Big Joe Turner or Howling Wolf.
But despite the undeniable thrills effortlessly summoned by their musical riot, their limitations and the reasons why Dave went off to discover new pastures are also obvious. Alvin's impressive vocal mannerism is just that, a mannerism, which lacks the flexibility the band warrant. And whatever simmering resentment there is between the Alvins must also contribute to the strangely morose presentation. Such gruffness is hardly in keeping with their signature song of celebration "Border Radio". Perhaps Phil, who is dousing himself with water by the end of the first song and takes several breathers during the show, needs to reserve his energy.
For their devoted following, however, such coolness is offset by the white heat of the music. But alongside the unpretentious approach that made The Blasters cult favourites the lack of ambition that kept them grounded is hard to miss.
"It's 17 years since we last played here," said Dave as he left the stage for the last time, "after tomorrow night it will be another 17 years until we play here again." It was a farewell of sorts, but hardly a fond one.
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