The Blasters At The Brouwerij West, Saturday July 27th 2019
The Blasters played at the Brouwerij West on Saturday night in front of a middle-aged crowd standing and dancing, in complete awe of the legendary band. They certainly are a fabulous California band which has managed to embrace a cocktail of influences from rockabilly to punk rock and rhythm & blues since the late ‘70s, while turning this ‘American music’ amalgam into a very personal affair.
Formed in 1978 by the Alvin brothers, the band is only led by Phil Alvin these days, as Dave left the band in 1986 to pursue a solo career. However, there were a few reunions over the years and Dave even replaced his brother when Phil contracted a very serious illness a few years ago. He even had a life-threatening emergency followed by a near-death experience during hospitalization in Spain while on tour. This could have put an end to anyone’s career, but Phil Alvin and his band the Blasters are still touring non-stop and if he looked a bit frail and stiff on his legs on Saturday night, his voice and musicianship were completely intact.
James Intveld and his great band opened the night with a set of old-school rockabilly and country-rock songs with an impeccable range and great confidence. And why wouldn’t he have shown confidence? Going from honky-tonk to a whipped Johnny Cash style, then back to a pure rockabilly tune or even a South of the Border ballad (‘Remember Me’), he had an interesting emotional voice and the charisma of a country star, while his own songs had the aura of classics. But nobody should have been surprised since James played bass behind Dwight Yoakam, was the lead guitarist of the Blasters for a while, sang in Harry Dean Stanton’s band, and wrote Rosie Flores’ hit ‘Cryin’ Over You’, a song he also performed on Saturday night.
The first thing that could strike any person not too familiar with the Blasters’ music (as I was) is the wide range of music dynamics going on. For more than an hour, they effortlessly mixed rockabilly, root-rock and rhythm & blues, alternating between their own tunes and other artists’ songs, covering people as diverse as Hillbilly Hall of Fame inductee Mack Vickery, ‘50s R&B artist Little Willie John, country-blues-soul songwriter Charlie Rich, blues-soul singer Harold Burrage, or even legendary songwriter Otis Blackwell, who wrote ‘Great Balls of Fire’, ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ and ‘All Shook Up’ among many others… It surely worked as a testimony of their musical roots, and a way to honor the unsung heroes of this era.
These days, the sheer energy, which made the Blasters’ performances so unforgivable, comes from guitarist extraordinaire Keith Wyatt, whose muscular work on guitar surely never stopped captivating the audience. His amazing virtuosity and bold moves were a delight to watch, but his energy was matched by the dynamism of the rhythm section made of bassist John Bazz and drummer Bill Bateman, who could produce an elegant arm ballet above his drum set or attack his drums like an ax murderer. Standing the entire time behind his mic stand, Phil Alvin didn’t move of an inch the entire time, looking at the crowd with a sharp stare, his famous toothy grin almost frozen on his face, very concentrated on his intense and passionate vocals and guitar playing.
From the all-fired up ‘Long White Cadillac’ to ‘Crazy Baby’, the songs were always providing room for Wyatt’s creative and versatile arrangements from surf guitar to pure rockabilly and beyond, while there was an irresistible tap-dancing appeal coming from the music. Even the slower ones like ‘Rock My Blues Away’, which could have acted like a time machine as I was watching girls wearing ‘50s swing dresses, never failed to produce excitement and pure exhilaration on everyone’s face.
‘Dark Night’ was a sort of departure, a noir bluesy Americana with a real cinematic and emotional rendition, while the covers had all the fever you could ask for, delivered with the band’s famous exuberance and powerhouse as well as Phil’s ferocious rictus. From the roots of rock & roll (‘I’m Shakin’) to the joyful energy of ‘Rebound’, they never lost their audience for a second, the music was fast, fun, covering plenty of musical grounds, while the band’s amazing musicianship was shining at each tune. Have you ever seen a band as tight as the Blasters?
After a rousing ‘So Long Baby Goodbye’, the toughness of the bluesy rock classic ‘Daddy Rolling Stone’, and a pile of mind-blowing guitar solos, there was time for more with ‘American Music’ and ‘Marie Marie’ of their 1980 debut album, throwing a Dick Dale riff into the already packed sonic arrangements, soon followed by an insanely fast ‘One Bad Stud’ as an encore.
From X to Los Lobos, there is a long list of roots-rock acts which cite the Blasters as a major influence, and on Saturday night, they showed how effortless they can still deliver their music, they never sounded outdated and made the spacious venue roar as much as they could have done it 40 years ago.
Long White Cadillac
Rock My Blues Away
Love Me With A Feeling
I’m the Only Hell Mama Ever Raised (Mack Vickery)
I’m Shakin’ (Little Willie John)
Rebound (Charlie Rich)
Crying for my Baby (Harold Burrage)
So Long Baby Goodbye
Daddy Rolling Stone (Otis Blackwell)
One Bad Stud