Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore at The Belly Up

These two road warriors make for an ideal pair. Alvin long ago stepped to the front of the stage from the shadows as songwriter and guitarist for The Blasters. Jimmie Dale Gilmore has covered many miles from his salad days with Butch Hancock and Joe Ely as the The Flatlanders. (Hancock was later backed by The Clash to open an early US tour). A series of adored solo albums by both Alvin and Gilmore led inevitably to their collaboration on Downey to Lubbock, from which many songs were assayed at The Belly Up. 

The second song of the evening “King of California” found the sterling band hitting their groove. Truly, they are a modern honky tonk band in the finest sense.​ In addition to Gilmore and Alvin on guitars, we were treated to Chris Miller (additional guitar), Lisa Pankratz (drums and backing vocals) and Brad Fordham (bass and backing vocals)​.

Over the many years Alvin has been honing his chops onstage, his delivery of the chilling “King of California” has been burnished to a fine sheen. The achingly beautiful lyrics belie the emotional tug of the melody.

Alvin and Gilmore traded the lead vocal spotlight on songs they recorded separately, and harmonized on a clutch of well-chosen covers. Some of the covers stretched back to the 1930s and some were more recent, relatively speaking. Into the latter category successfully fell “Come Together,” covered most notably by The Youngbloods. 

Halfway into the evening Alvin introduced one of his best songs with “I don’t know if it’s timeless, but it’s timely.” Of the dozen or so times I have seen Alvin perform “4th of July” none topped this version. 

Yes, it was on the eve of Independence Day weekend. 

Yes, it was after a long slog that kept Alvin and myriad others off the road for two and a half years. 

And somewhat it was yes me reflecting on the current state of our Union. 

But mostly it was the riveting guitar solo Alvin delivered. 

Where did he find those scorching riffs?

Akin to the oft-misinterpreted meaning of Springsteen’s “Born in the USA“ (itself prompted by Kovic’s searing autobiography Born on the 4th of July), Alvin’s boisterous song has a dark undercurrent. 

Alvin’s roots are in Downey, California but his peripatetic genes sent him exploring near and far. He has known Gilmore for nearly 30 years, but only a few years ago did they start performing together. The paths of the Californian and the Texan are the same for now, and their audience is the beneficiary. 

(photos by Brad Auerbach)

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.