The Blasters were one of the greatest American rock bands ever. I’m also of the opinion that their lead guitarist and main songwriter, Dave Alvin, is one of today’s finest writers. That started with some great songs he penned with the Blasters in the early ’80s. As one look at this DVD will show you, he’s also grown tremendously as a guitarist.
This is a recording of a concert the fellas did to wrap up their “reunion” tour in 2003. They recorded the DVD in their home area at the Galaxy Theatre in Orange County, California. The original lineup is featured here. That means Dave’s brother, Phil, is sweating, grimacing, and smiling through 18 great tunes. It also means the nasty rhythm section of Bill Bateman (drums), John Bazz (bass), and the wonderful Gene Taylor (keyboards) is propelling this band to new heights on pretty much every performance. And guiding things along is Dave Alvin and his Strat, whose playing has grown tremendously through the years.
There’s some nice extras on the DVD that show the Blasters back in the ’80s. While he was certainly a fine roots-rock guitarist, his playing stayed simple and fit the songs.
In this concert, he dips, dives, and takes off on solo excursions that might seem more fitting on a jam band album. Check out the classic “American Music.” A great solo for a great song. He’s not afraid to stretch things out a bit, which wouldn’t have happened in the old days. As long as we’re talking old days, we should mention Dave left the first time around, feeling somewhat constricted. He has said that minor chords and long solos were frowned upon. That apparently has been worked out. Although the beginning of one of my favorites, “Trouble Bound,” lets the old animosity rear its ugly head. If you read lips, you can see Dave telling Phil to “Shut up” as he tries to start the song. Once the tune kicks in, though, it’s all smiles as the band cooks.
There’s help from some friends here, too. Chicago bluesman Billy Boy Arnold joins the band for a couple of tunes, including a blistering version of his classic “I Ain’t Got You.” Rockabilly legend Sonny Burgess rocks with the boys through a couple of tunes, and members of doo-wop bands the Calvanes and the Medallions shine on several songs.
From a musical standpoint, this is what’s great about the DVD. A great band, putting on one hell of a show for lots of their fans. Throw in great interviews, old clips, and great sound and camera shots, and you get more than your money’s worth. Dave says he’d be happy to do other reunion gigs in the future, but just in case, pick this one up. Rock and roll like it should be.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sep. ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.