What's Up, Chuck?
Stories to Tell--Dave Alvin brings his stories of misfits and desperadoes to Doc's.
Thursday, December 10, 1998
Acouple weeks ago, The Blasters were in town with their roots-rock act and they put on a good party, with front man Phil Alvin leading the way. Tonight (Thursday, 12/10) Phil''s little brother Dave Alvin, one of the original Blasters, makes his Monterey debut at Doc''s.
Dave left the Blasters back in the mid ''80s. For his part, in interviews Phil has said that he thinks of his brother primarily as a songwriter, not as a band member, and listening to Dave''s music you kind of hear Phil''s point. While The Blasters are raucous good-timers, there''s a serious, thoughtful--maybe even dark--side to Dave.
Both of Dave''s last two albums King of California (1994) and Blackjack David (1998) are filled with songs about characters whose marginal lives don''t end happily ever after. Whether the song is about a prospector who gets shot protecting the gold he gathered for his girlfriend, a Vietnam vet whose life slowly unravels as he is haunted by the death of a friend, or the border patrolman who chases doomed illegal immigrants, there is a sense of desperation that pervades the music.
"When I have time to sit down and write songs, my songs are story songs; I tend to want to write about the drama in people''s lives," says Dave between squalls of static on his cell phone as he drives south from Canada. "Maybe it''s the kind of life I lead; if I lived a more opulent lifestyle, I''d see more drama in the board room or something."
Maybe the most moving cut on Blackjack is "California Snow," which tells the story of an immigration officer working the backroads of Southern California, in the mountains near the Cleveland National Forest some 50 miles east of San Diego. The officer has recently split up with his wife and he comes across an illegal couple; the woman has frozen to death in the snow and the husband has carried her all night.
"The main character is fiction," says Dave, "but the incidents are true. It was the winter of ''96-''97 and Operation Gatekeeper had pretty effectively sealed off Tijuana." But it hadn''t sealed off the border: the immigrants just came in further to the east. "They would get up into the mountains there around Alpine, and it snowed and the immigrants would be coming over wearing tennis shoes and T-shirts. I was reading about it in The Los Angeles Times and there were like 25 or 30 people who died. I thought somebody should write about it. I didn''t want to be preachy about it, I just wanted it to be sad."
The song really packs a double wallop, presenting the officer''s life ("I''m just trying to make a living, I''m an old man at 39, with two kids and an ex-wife who moved up to Riverside...") with the immigrants''.
"There''s something, you can''t really say romantic, but there''s this guy who carries his wife through the snow after she dies; there''s something noble about that. I wanted to contrast people who wanted something better and people who are just trying to get by."
Dave says the reason his songs make an impact on people is because we all relate to the characters, no matter how marginal they are.
"Maybe it''s because everyone''s been in those positions or knows somebody who has been," says Dave. "Or maybe they''re on their way there.
"I''m just a few gigs away from being out of work. A few bad shows or reviews and I could be selling french fries. We''re all tenuously holding on to our comfortable lives."
I suppose it''s humanizing to remember that we''re all just a couple of bad breaks away from the soup kitchen, but it doesn''t seem likely that Dave Alvin is headed there anytime soon. He''s one of the top songwriters working today (Tom Russell is the only other musician I can think of who is consistently turning out songs with equal drama and impact), is an in-demand producer (Candye Kane, Tom Russell, Chris Gaffney, Big Sandy and His Fly Rite Boys), and has become one of the staples of Americana and AAA format radio stations.
In the intimate confines of Doc''s, this should be a helluva show.
Opening for Alvin is Geoff Muldaur, former husband of Maria and a respected blues and roots musician.
Dave Alvin, Thursday, 9pm. Doc''s Nightclub, 649-4241.
If Dave Alvin''s tales of desperation are too much, you might be able to restore some balance in your musical weekend with Kenny Rankin, who''s playing The Jazz Store on both Friday and Saturday.
Rankin, as children of the ''50s will most likely remember, has been on the music scene since 1967, and has flirted in the spaces between pop and jazz since then.
This appearance by Rankin, a semi-regular performer at The Jazz Store, marks the 178th production by radio station KRML during the last five years. According to co-owner Alan Schultz, "It''s been a busy and productive period for us."
Kenny Rankin, Friday and Saturday, 7:30pm. The Jazz Store, $35, 624-6431.
Turn up the volume?
Looking for some heavy duty rockin'' and rollin''? You''ll find it at Doc''s on Saturday when Warrant makes its Monterey debut.
Each of the band''s first two albums, Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinkin'' Rich (1989) and Cherry Pie (1991) sold about two and a half million copies. After releasing their third album, Dog Eat Dog in ''92, the band''s broken up, reformed and released a couple more albums >(Ultraphobic and Belly to Belly, Vol. 1).
While the band''s best days may be behind them, they''ve still got enough good rockin'' left to go around.
Warrant, Saturday, 9pm. Doc''s Nightclub, 649-4241.
A couple of quick mentions about shows in Santa Cruz this weekend: Robert Earl Keen is headlining the KPIG Humbug Hoedown; tickets are sold out but...you never know who''ll be selling what on the sidewalk outside The Cat. Friday, 9pm. The Catalyst, Santa Cruz. 429-7663. And slide guitar virtuoso Roy Rogers teams up with spirited harmonica wizard Norton Buffalo for two shows. Both of these guys are great acts on their own; together they''re dynamite. Saturday, 7&9:30pm. Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz. $15.75. 429-7663.