When two legends get together for an album and tour there is a risk of creating a novel experience, one that looks better than it sounds. This is anything but true in the case of Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Each artist is as much known for his original band – the Blasters for Alvin and the Flatlanders for Gilmore – as he is for a having a prolific solo career. With this in mind, it almost seems like a collaboration was meant to be, which is what finally happened with the release of their album Downey to Lubbock. The two have been on tour supporting the album with Alvin’s band the Guilty Ones, and on the warm fall night of September 27 they hit Portland, Oregon for a show at the Aladdin Theater.
Getting the night off on the right foot was venerable songwriter Jon Langford, who also did the cover art for Downey to Lubbock. Langford can always be counted on to be in high spirits, and this night was no exception. Along with his tour mate John Szymanski, Langford wielded an acoustic as he blasted his way through a selection of songs from his prolific career, touching on his own material as well as his work with cow punks the Waco Brothers and art punks the Mekons. In between songs he regaled the crowd with darkly humorous tales of musical figures, politics, and his own rabble-rousing life.
Onstage together Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore made for an interesting contrast; the astute, sharply dressed Californian with his electric guitar, and the laid back Texas hippie grooving along on his acoustic. The dynamic worked surprisingly well as the two artists swapped songs after appropriately kicking off the set with the title track off the new record, which found them both alternating verses and setting the rollicking mood for the night. Gilmore’s “Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown” featured feisty solo interplay between Alvin and Chris Miller. Things got wilder with “Johnny Ace is Dead”, a bluesy rocker that morphed into a chug-a-lug tune about a life of crime and travel. Alvin even joked about teaching Gilmore the Jackie Wilson routine. Part of the performance’s fun was the stories in between songs, and both Gilmore and Alvin had the crowd in fits when they introduced the tune “Silverlake” and discussed their strange experience with its songwriter Steve Young. The Western-tinged ballad showcased the high and lonesome vocal range of Gilmore before the band hopped into the heavy blues rambler with a loose and lively energy, the Memphish Jug Band’s “Stealin’ Stealin’. Alvin would have the crowd singing along with his longtime favorite “4th of July” (maybe the best holiday song ever written?) and explode into a machine gun guitar solo all while shuffling his feet and nearly dropping into a split.
Part of the magic of the night was seeing these two distinctive voices playing off one another. The cowboy duet “Billy the Kid and Geronimo” saw Gilmore’s nasal twang in perfect harmony with Alvin’s smooth and low vocals. There were also moments of downright fun, like with the band’s swaggering rock and roll take on the Lloyd Price’s classic “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” with Chris Miller delivering plenty of guitar shredding and Gilmore belting out vocals. One of the most poignant moments came when Dave sang the twinkling groover “Dry River” that saw drummer Lisa Pankratz proving she was perhaps the star of the show as the powerhouse drummer with a wild jazz solo. In fact, Pankratz was in the pocket the whole night with the finesse of a jazz drummer and the virtuoso ferocity of Neil Peart, showing the crowd why she may be the best damn drummer in country music.
Dave Alvin joked about how long the band could play on a school night, clearly a nod to the older age of the crowd. Luckily, everyone was eager for more as the band closed out the night in lively fashion with Gilmore and Alvin showing their duet skills on a soulful cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It Home To Me”. A handful of songs followed, including Gilmore playing his “theme song” aka Butch Hancock’s “My Mind Has a Mind of Its Own”. When it was finally all over the audience jumped to their feet with enthusiastic applause, signaling that some legends are meant to cross paths.
Photos by Greg Homolka.