American Music at the Earlville Opera House, from Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin with The Guilty Ones

Dave Alvin and his brother Phil have been checking things out ever since they snuck into legendary clubs and theaters as under-aged teenagers to see and hear the artists that provided them with a musical education. In doing so, it is evident that they formed an appreciation for those artists and edifices that have stood the test of time. So it was no surprise to see Dave strolling down the sidewalk of Earlville, checking out the storefronts and old buildings prior to Friday night’s performance of Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin with the Guilty Ones at the Earlville Opera House on September 2.

Their appreciation for those venerable artists was also evident in the choice of songs performed that evening. Bill Broonzy and Big Joe Turner, featured songwriters on their two most recent releases, Common Ground and Lost Time from Yep Roc Records, were highlighted in multiple selections. Even one of Dave Alvin’s own songs honored a singer whose star shone brightly but briefly for only twenty-five years, and whose gunshot death by his own hand has been the subject of rumors and wild conjecture that only grew as decades passed. Those elements provided the basis for “Johnny Ace is Dead,” one of several stand out numbers in a rambunctious two hour performance. This song showcased Dave Alvin‘s songwriting, story telling, singing, and guitar.

Dave’s brother Phil Alvin, now back recording and performing after serious health issues in recent years, is a tremendous vocalist. Phil’s singing on Turner’s “Cherry Red Blues” displayed both the power and nuance for which he is known. He also added his skills on harmonica and acoustic guitar to various songs.

The not-so-secret weapon in the Guilty Ones, the Alvins’ backing band, is the incredible Lisa Pankratz behind the drums. I’ve heard it said that for drummers, songs are like children. Some you can trust on their own, and just remain in the background keeping an eye on things. Others need to be nudged along to find their way forward. Still others might require a kick in the ass. Pankratz performs those tasks as well as any I’ve ever seen. Rounding out the Guilty Ones are Brad Fordham on bass and vocals, and Chris Miller on guitar.

The Alvins also drew upon their days as founding members of prominent Los Angeles band The Blasters with crowd favorites “Border Radio” and “American Music” as well as two of their encores, “King of California” and “Marie, Marie.” For a toe-tapping, hip-shaking good time, go see Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin with The Guilty Ones.

Special guest performer Sarah Borges opened the show with a solo acoustic set of primarily songs off her recent CD, Good and Dirty. Included was an exceptional cover of “Stop and Think It Over” (No, not the Perry Como song.) She had an easy rapport with the audience, and told hilarious stories of life on the road playing music. The Boston based musician is a name you should remember to check out, as Dave and Phil Alvin did.

All photos were taken at the historic Earlville Opera House, now celebrating its 45th anniversary season.

Setlist: All by Myself, I Feel So Good, World’s in a Bad Condition, Mister Kicks, Cherry Red Blues, Hide and Seek, Southern Flood Blues, Border Radio, Johnny Ace is Dead, Truckin’ Little Woman, What’s Up with Your Brother?, Dry River, American Music

Encore: King of California, Marie, Marie, Turn on Your Love Light