The last few times that Dave Alvin came through St. Louis the city battled tornadoes and flooding of different proportions, but this Saturday night was different for those crowded into Off Broadway. It came close to a reunion of those early years when Dave and Phil Alvin crisscrossed the country under the banner of the Blasters, and that spirit was in effect. But to quote Sly Stone, it was a “Family Affair.”
Guitarist Laura Chavez, bassist Bobby Abarca and drummer Kurt Kalker started off with two greasy blues instrumentals that set the mood for the evening and provided a great introduction to their fearless leader Candye Kane. Chavez' guitar inhabits that middle ground between the all-to-familiar Texas blues of Johnny Winter and Stevie Ray Vaughn and the Californian jazz influence of T-Bone Walker. Her style more akin to Walker with that rugged Texas tone, a dichotomy perfect for the iridescent songs and voice of Candye Kane.
Like Chavez' guitar, Kane's voice straddles the realms of jazz, blues and classic torch styling. She is purely L.A. in her approach and look, an over-the-top performer with the goods to back up her onstage persona. In the past few years Kane has been suffering health problems, but these issues has not kept her from the stage or affected her full-bodied voice filled with songs of humor, love and hope.
The crowd was rowdy with anticipation for a night of “American Music.” Some were hopped up after a recent appearance of the Blasters at Off Broadway while others hoped to recapture the magic Dave and Phil Alvin had in the '80s. Through the P.A the distinctive finger-style and voice of Big Bill Broonzy's “All by Myself” echoed in the club before the brothers, along with Dave Alvin's band the Guilty Ones, took the stage. Without missing a beat Dave launched into a recreation of Broonzy's style that blurred the lines of prerecorded and live.
Big Bill Broozny, and the blues, is the epicenter of the Blasters and Dave Alvin's solo career. This shared love is reflected in the album “Common Ground: Dave and Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy” and made up the majority of evenings songs. Dave, Phil and Chris Miller handled guitar duties while drummer Lisa Pankratz and bassist Brad Fordham held down every twist and turn of the blues that came from the childhood and pen of the brothers Alvin. “Little did you know my brother took lessons from the great blues harmonica player Sonny Terry,” Dave stated, which prompted Phil to respond, “Let's see how much I forgot,” before launching into the Broonzy standard “Key to the Highway.”
The night was about family and the brothers shared musical experience. “I have been playing the Off Broadway club for about 20 years” Dave stated, “but it is an honor to finally share this stage with my brother.” These songs made up their childhood and the beginning of their musical legacy which extends to “King of California,” which Dave wrote for their mother, and the Blasters classic “Marie Marie” which is “the first song I wrote for my brother to sing.”
It was not a trip down memory lane, it was a celebration of family, brotherhood and the music they shared. Big Bill Broonzy's songs were a large part of the evening, but songs like “Border Radio,” “Dry River,” “What's Up With Your Brother” and “Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas)” gave the audience a history lesson of these musical brothers. Jokes were made, smiles, laughter and hearing the Alvins sing harmony only strengthened the bond these two have.