DAVE AND PHIL ALVIN, THE STATE ROOM, Friday, June 22, 9 p.m., $25
To a whole generation of old punk rockers and roots-rock fans, Dave and Phil Alvin are living legends. The brothers formed a band called The Blasters back in 1979. Along with fellow Southern California bands like X and Los Lobos, The Blasters helped forge a style of music that had all the edge of the punk rock popular at the time, but remained rooted in traditional blues and old time rock and roll. The Blasters released a few albums through the early 80s, earning critical acclaim and an increasingly large audience. Like many bands featuring brothers, though, Dave and Phil Alvin couldn’t get along well enough to sustain their musical partnership. Dave left The Blasters in the mid-’80s to embark on a successful solo career that continues to this day. And Phil Alvin continued on leading the Blasters.
Earlier this summer Dave and Phil Alvin released their first album-length collaboration in nearly 30 years, and it’s a passion project for the brothers, who both sing and play some mean guitar. It’s a collection of songs by blues man Big Bill Broonzy, who the Alvins have been fans of since they were kids and Phil brought home a record of Broonzy’s music for them to share. The album is called Common Ground: Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy. It’s a long title, but the set breezes by in 12 songs drawn from Broonzy’s long career. The Alvins will be joined by members of Dave Alvin’s regular band, the Guilty Ones. The Far West opens the show.
While Toto and former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald were literally bringing the Cali yacht-rock vibe to Red Butte Garden Tuesday, Jenny Lewis was playfully evoking the same era at her Depot show in downtown Salt Lake City.
From her flowing purple robe draped over a retro pastel pantsuit to the sunny pop vibe of most of the new songs from her latest release, The Voyager, the 38-year-old Lewis on Tuesday seemed like an artist who preferred the psychedelic glow of the ’70s to her own generation’s music. A close listen to her lyrics, though, reveals a woman clearly living in the here and now, managing to create plenty of laugh-out-loud couplets even within tales of heartbreak and woe.
That ability to combine the sour and the sweet is what makes Lewis one of my favorite songwriters, and her concerts live up to my high expectations as well. At the Depot, Lewis led an excellent five-piece band through songs heavily drawn from The Voyager, but touching on her other solo albums and years fronting Rilo Kiley as well.
In fact, she opened the show with Rilo Kiley’s “Silver Lining,” a choice that immediately got the crowd into the show, even as Lewis paused after to do a little artistic direction with the venue’s lighting.
“Can we make it a little ‘vibe-ier’ up here?” she asked, hoping for some darkness on stage. “And can we turn down the lights on the crowd? I love seeing you guys, but this is a little too real. Mystery. Illusion!”
With that, Lewis was off and running through a slew of songs from The Voyager. “Just One of the Guys,” the first single, was a welcome early performance. Lewis switched from guitar to keyboards for “Head Underwater” before returning to center stage for “Slippery Slopes,” one of the new album’s best tracks.
On “Pretty Bird” from her Acid Tongue album, Lewis showcased a truly impressive vocal ability as she prowled the stage. She seemed to get more and more comfortable as a frontwoman throughout the show. By the end, she was standing up on monitors, raising her hand and working the crowd from side to side–even as she contended with the bright spotlights that made her feel “like I’m part of a salad bar. We’re not quite to the soft-serve station yet.”
Rilo Kiley fans will be happy to know “The Moneymaker” and “A Better Son/Daughter” were both prominent parts of the show. As a fan of Lewis’s first solo collection, Rabbit Fur Coat, I was was happy to hear both the gorgeous harmonies of “Rise Up with Fists!!” and the pretty “You Are What You Love.”
The songs from The Voyager were the well-deserved highlights of the show, though. “The New You,” “Late Bloomer,” “Aloha & the Three Johns” and “Love U Forever” were all excellent, as was the final encore song, “She’s Not Me.”
All told, it was 17 songs of excellent performances serving as a potent reminder that Lewis is an artist who’s been worth watching for a long time already. And she’s only getting better.
BECK, PIONEER PARK, Thursday, Aug. 14, 7 p.m., $5
Given that Beck’s latest album, Morning Phase, is a mellow collection of easy-listening tunes in the same vein as his excellent 2002 Sea Change album, the man might not seem like a natural choice for the noisy festival-like environment of Pioneer Park for a Twilight Concert Series show. But the man has a long history of rocking festival crowds with greatest-hits sets that showcase one of the more unlikely careers in modern rock music. While much of his new album is full of gentle, reflective reveries, Beck has bounced between garage-rock, hip-hop, funk, soul, R&B and folk over the years since he burst on the scene with “Loser.” When that song hit the so-called “alternative” airwaves back in 1993, it seemed like it had “one-hit wonder” written all over it. Instead, Beck set off on a brilliant string of releases including Odelay and Mutations, and even when his albums aren’t consistently great, they are always worth a listen to see what Beck is up to. One area where he is always consistent is his live shows–Beck is a great performer who always has a top-notch band on hand to deliver the goods. Future Islands open the show.
JENNY LEWIS, THE DEPOT, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 9 p.m., $20
A lot of music fans were introduced to Jenny Lewis during her stint as part of the popular indie-rock band Rilo Kiley back in the early ‘00s. For me, Lewis’s first solo album is the thing that made me a fan of the 38-year-old singer and songwriter. Rabbit Fur Coat was a revelation when it came out in the winter of 2006. It included musical contributions from the likes of Conor Oberst and M. Ward, but what really struck me was Lewis’s amazing voice, harmonizing along with singing sisters The Watson Twins. When Lewis came through Salt Lake City on tour, her show at Kilby Court was incredible, a high-energy gig featuring some amazing musicianship rarely found in many of the indie and punk bands that play the tiny all-ages club. Lewis’s second solo album didn’t hit me quite the same way, but she has a brand new collection of songs released at the end of July that has reminded me how much I love her work. The new album is called The Voyager, and its sunny sound belies some of the dark sentiments in the lyrics, many of them reflecting on the death of her father, and the demise of her old band. Can’t wait to see how it translates to her live show. Jake Bellows opens the show.
With a so-called “supermoon” rising over the mountains and perfect weather greeting the crowd, Red Butte Garden got a serious taste of New Orleans Sunday night, courtesy of Galactic and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue.
The co-headliners both bring different flavors of the Big Easy in their shows and respective sounds. Galactic delivers a funk-infused bit of jam-band dance music that these days leans toward blues-rock thanks to the presence of vocalist Maggie Koerner. And Trombone Shorty and his band Orleans Avenue rely on a stellar horn-section led by the versatile leader who bounced between singing and playing along with a variety of instruments–he’s no one-trombone trick pony.
Galactic started the proceedings with a set alternating between instrumental jams and songs featuring Koerner–a formula later copied by Trombone Shorty. Koerner first made her considerable presence felt on “Higher and Higher” early on, as well as “Dolla Diva.” And while her flowing purple dress and powerful pipes made her a constant focal point when Koerner was on stage, the musicians in Galactic are too strong to stay on the sidelines. Trombone player Corey Henry and drummer Stanton Moore consistently took command of the proceedings when the mood struck them–Henry with his boisterous playing and crowd interaction, and Moore though his propulsive percussion.
Among the other highlights of Galactic’s set were “Doesn’t Make a Difference at All,” “Should’ve Known Better” and a scorching closing cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.”
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue took the stage to a surprisingly heavy rock instrumental before the horns took over and a more traditional New Orleans vibe came in. Trombone Shorty (real name: Troy Andrews) is an engaging frontman, chatting up the crowd between taking turns on vocals, trombone, trumpet and tambourine. On Sunday, his repeated exhortations to the crowd that it was time to party were both endearing and completely unnecessary given how Galactic started the show.
The instrumental workouts from Andrews and Co. were my favorite moments of the Trombone Shorty set, but he’s no slouch on vocals, either. Songs like “Craziest Things,” “You Are My Everything” and “Fire and Brimstone” all kept the crowd on its feet and dancing as well as the energetic instrumentals.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue have become regular visitors to Red Butte Garden the past few years, and nothing they did Sunday should keep their Utah audience from growing even more. Here’s hoping they and Galactic forge a long-term summer-tour partnership, because that’s a dance-party double-bill that’s hard to beat.
CHRIS ISAAK, RED BUTTE GARDEN, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 7:30 p.m., $54
One of the advantages of being a music writer in Salt Lake City for a number of years is the opportunity of being exposed to artists and music I otherwise never would have given much time to. Such is the case for me when it comes to Chris Isaak. Like many music fans, Isaak came to my attention through his ballad “Wicked Game.” The song was on his 1989 album Heart Shaped World, but gained popularity through its use in the 1990 David Lynch movie Wild at Heart. The movie was a wild psychedelic ride of murder and Elvis worship, but the video for “Wicked Game” was a phenomenon because of its simplicity–just black and white images of Isaak and supermodel Helena Christensen rolling around on a beach. As a young rock fan at the time, I didn’t have much use for Isaak’s sultry croon on “Wicked Game,” and it was only years later when I covered one of his Salt Lake City concerts for a review that I was introduced to all Isaak’s music has to offer. His sound is rooted in classic rock and roll, folks like Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and Elvis. He’s found various opportunities to cover songs by those legends through the years, most recently on an album full of songs from the legendary ‘50s-era Memphis recording studio, Sun Studio. His own songs expand on that classic rock sound, and make for excellent live performances with his long-time band.
Given the popularity of John Hiatt’s live shows in Utah and beyond, it’s a wonder that he hasn’t enjoyed a ton of pop success during his lengthy career. The man regularly sells out when he comes through Zion, including his co-headlining gig with Taj Mahal Sunday night at Red Butte Garden, and yet he remains more of a critical success than a commercial one.
That’s great for those of us who have been turned on to the man’s rootsy blend of folk, rock and country, and his worthy way with words. Hiatt has released a series of consistently winning albums with a rotating cast of collaborators and bandmates, and constantly toured with just as diverse an array of players. And you can pretty much never go wrong when you delve into Hiatt’s music.
That was the case once again Sunday night, when Hiatt’s tour in support of his new album Terms of My Surrender brought him and his band back to Salt Lake City. In this case, Hiatt’s touring band and studio band were one in the same, giving the new songs like “Baby’s Gonna Kick,” “Old People” and “Wind Don’t Have to Hurry” the benefit of a confident band of players capable of really ripping into the music.
Guitarist Doug Lancio is a special player, ripping out eclectic lead guitar along with some fine banjo-picking over the course of the cloudy evening. Joined by bass player Nathan Gehri, drummer Kenneth Blevins and multi-instrumentalist Brandon Young, Lancio led the band as Hiatt’s right-hand man, leaving the singer to swap through electric and acoustic guitars, as well as a little harmonica.
Hiatt opened the show with “Your Dad Did” from his excellent Bring The Family album, and followed up with “Detroit Made” before hitting the first new song of the night with “Baby’s Gonna Kick.” From there, he bounced all over his catalog, bringing new songs in occasionally between older favorites.
Among the highlights for me: “Crossing Muddy Waters,” a rousing “Cry Love” and a lovely take on “Feels Like Rain.” “Perfectly Good Guitar” and “Thing Called Love” remain obvious crowd favorites, and his bluesy “Master of Disaster” proved a treat from one of his more recent collections.
Good stuff all around, and enough to keep the crowd on hand after Taj Mahal played for about 90 minutes himself to start the show. I only caught the tail end of Taj, enough to hear him play some mean guitar and get a rousing ovation.
(Photo from Zimbio.com)