Tuesday, August 14, 2007

It's kinda late on a school night but lucky for me that Brother Ben has sent this report on the recent visit of Phil Alvin and Co to the Windy City limits... so without any further ado...

The Blasters - FitzGerald's Nightclub, Berwyn (near Chicago),
IL - August 4th 2007

FitzGerald's is a perfect spot for (American) music, where fans go because they love the real stuff. The owners created a wonderful "out of the way" roadhouse, where you can catch a cookin' band and eat some authentic down-home food. The Blasters (as well as Dave Alvin, and countless others) are no strangers to FitzGerald's. In fact, it has a yearly American Music Festival during the 4th Of July Weekend where countless artists gather to show off and have a good time (in the past, you'da find Dave A., The Blasters, Robbie Fulks, Sleepy LaBeef, and other eclectic acts). Good sound, fun atmosphere and affordable booze.

I had some trepidation about catching The B's, minus Mssrs. D Alvin and Bill Bateman, but any concern quickly went out the window once they took the stage and kicked in with the opening notes and chords of "Dark Night". Initially Phil had to battle through an upstart guitar cable but fought through and managed to belt out a Big Joe Turner tune while Billy Davis (their go-to man) grabbed him some new equipment. Phil was in strong form, his voice was full, soulful and without any signs of doing this gig for nearly 30 years. The grimace was there the entire show, it seemed. Those teeth, the sweat, amazing stuff. When this man takes the stage, watch out -- he ain't no redneck from LA, he's every blues shouter, soul singer, harp blower that's come before him. For my taste this night, Phil's capper was a tribute to the Godfather of Soul with a blistering Please, Please, Please. I can happily report that this was one of the coolest and right-on James Brown covers I've ever heard.

And the rest of the band? John Bazz is just...a killer on the bass. Going up and down the neck, rollin' with the beats and bendin' those strings like they were nothing at all. Jerry Angel was also more solid than I had hoped for, and Keith Wyatt played some great leads, emulating Dave's recorded ones while still managing to expand and do different things. Even they would have to admit they have big shoes to fill, and it would be unfair to compare them to Dave and Bill as this point since they've been playing with Phil and John. Are they as good as the original Blasters?

No, of course not because they're different. They make no attempts at being them. These Blasters are a tight unit that plays how they play. And I think it also shows a bit of respect towards the older compositions in mixing up the arrangements a little without taking anything away from them. The set was mostly made up of more recent tunes from 4-11-44 while still kicking out some of their more well-known classics like "Long White Cadillac", "Marie Marie", and "American Music", while also tossing in an old live gem, "Rock Boppin' Baby". The newer tunes, like "The Boneyard", "Rebound" and "It's All Your Your Fault" all sound significantly stronger live. It's my guess that the band has gotten tighter having played consistently again over the past few years. Phil had fun with the audience, joking about baseball (incurring some boo's and minor applause when mentioning Mr. Bonds and The Cubs). He got sweaty, he was exhausted by the end but, like the rest of the band he gave his all. Now I just have to cross my fingers and hope the Alvin Brothers can bury the hatchet again and make it back to Chicago sometime soon...

I wouldn't be holding my breath Ben. I think that's unlikely but who knows. And that's about it from this airt for tonight. Saw Hamell again tonight and then cut across town to meet up with my old mucker Liam on a whistle stop from Belfast. I'm looking at the time thinking that in 8 hours, I gots to get in commute mode. But at the rate the rain is hammering on the windows maybe the roads'll be flooded. To quote the great Al Bundy, "Like I could ever get what I want". All gearing up for John Waters visit to the capital this coming Thursday.