April 27, 2012

Concerts #217, 363, 371, 424, 431, 458 - Dave Alvin at Various Venues (2000-2008)

In my book, Dave Alvin is one of the great ones, but my appreciation for his music can't be called love-at-first-sight. On the contrary.

I first saw Dave as John Wesley Harding's guest in 1990. Nothing special.

On January 15, 2000, accompanied by our friends Ron & Bobbie, my Better Half and I went to the Neighborhood Church in Pasadena to catch Tom Russell and Dave in a co-headlining event and it was Tom who impressed us the most. Dave played "King of California", "New Highway", "From A Kitchen Table" and "Blackjack David", among others. Maybe it was my unfamiliarity with his songs, but fact is that, on that occasion, Dave did not become an instant favorite of mine. That night was also my introduction to Greg Leisz, who played the dobro in Dave's backing band that also included Rick Shea on mandolin and electric guitar and Brantley Kearns on fiddle.

What followed was a series of unannounced appearances as the guest of other performers, a clear proof of Dave's popularity with his fellow musicians as well as his willingness to provide support, even though money was not involved. In 2002, Dave popped in for a song or two at Tom Russell's concert at McCabe's. A year later, he guested on Syd Straw's show also at McCabe's. Such appearances have kept Dave Alvin on my radar and validated his status as a musician worth keeping on eye on.

Dave's music hit me real hard for the first time on May 28, 2005, at McCabe's, where else? His then-current album, "Ashgrove", had just been released. With able support from Greg Leisz and the late Amy Farris, Dave delivered one superb song after another. Great vocals, great guitar playing, but what really knocked my socks off was the quality of his compositions. One doesn't often hear songs as good as "Ashgrove", "Rio Grande" and especially "Out Of Control", with its movie-like imagery and absorbing lyrics. To this day, this remains one of the most memorable concerts I have ever attended.

The Ditty Bops opened the show, and even though their retro-style light music had little in common with Dave's heavy-weight subjects, they were fun to watch.

The Ditty Bops
In August 2005, Dave played a benefit show in Claremont, at Ben Harper's Folk Music Center. Needless to say, my Better Half and I were there, together with our friends Bob and Lynne, soon to become Dave Alvin fans themselves. Seeing Dave perform at such an intimate venue was something special. Once again Dave received support from Chris Gaffney and Amy Farris and once again I had the pleasure of hearing my favorite gems from "Ashgrove", plus some of Dave's oldies.

The Folk Music Center in Claremont, California
On November 3, 2006, my Better Half and I went to catch Dave Alvin's free show at the Getty Center, part of the "Friday Nights at the Getty" concert series. Dave focused on his newly released album titled "West Of The West", his tribute to California songwriters, some well-known, others obscure. Accompanied by a band that included the ever-present Amy Farris on fiddle and Chris Miller on guitar, Dave sang Jackson Browne's "Redneck Friend" and his own "Ashgrove". One of the highlights was the appearance of the Calvanes, an old do-wop group that helped Dave deliver  Richard Berry's "I'm Bewildered" and Brian Wilson's "Surfer Girl". The audience responded with giggles when Dave launched into the latter.

I caught Dave a few more times as someone's guest. In 2006, he was one of Peter's "friends" at the "Peter Case & Friends" concert at McCabe's, then in 2007 he closed the Leonard Cohen tribute concert at UCLA with a rendition of "Democracy" that brought the house down.

Dave plays McCabe's about once a year, and typically I find it hard to stay away. On February 17, 2007, and then again on January 19, 2008, I attended his concerts there. Sadly, these shows turned out to be the last times I saw Amy Farris and Chris Gaffney alive. They are both gone now, but not forgotten, certainly not by Dave. Amy's memory has been immortalized in Dave's gorgeous "Black Rose Of Texas", while "Run Conejo Run" is dedicated to Chris. Both songs appear on "Eleven Eleven", an album released by Dave in 2011.

Amy Farris
Chris Gaffney
My interest in Dave's music remains intact. I will keep up with his new releases and live shows, especially those at McCabe's.

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