Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore have been good friends for many years, so when they got together to make 2018’s ‘Downey to Lubbock’ album it was something which they both agreed was long overdue. They had played together previously but making the album persuaded them to put a full band tour together. Only four UK dates were scheduled as part of their European tour, so those present tonight at Manchester’s iconic Band on the Wall venue were entitled to feel truly privileged.
The evening began with a well-received set of finely crafted songs from Roseanne Reid, who having just completed a support slot touring with Caroline Spence, was performing the same role on this tour – she clearly has a very good agent! Temporary unreserved seating for tonight’s gig meant that a sizeable proportion of the evening’s audience arrived early and were already in their places by the time Reid took to the stage. As well as gaining the best vantage points for the main attraction, most will also have felt that the supporting performance which they witnessed was further reward for their early arrival.
Opening up with ‘Downey to Lubbock’, the title track of their joint album, Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore alternated vocals and swapped smiles. It was clear from the off that the two friends enjoyed playing together. Moving on to the Gilmore penned Flatlanders favourite ‘Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown’ it was apparent that the once faultless and true instrument that is Gilmore’s voice, was beginning to hesitate and waver at times. Not that anybody was too bothered. He is 74 now and the audience were just hugely appreciative of not just what he delivered tonight, but of the immense pleasure that he has given us over his long career.
There were no such concerns over Dave Alvin, who having been overshadowed vocally by brother Phil in his Blasters days, has developed his own voice to the point where it sounds better today than it ever has. This was amply demonstrated by his delivery of ‘Johnny Ace is Dead’ from his 2011 album ‘Eleven Eleven’. Even more clearly demonstrated was his wonderful guitar playing which, aided by the Guilty Ones, really picked up the pace of the evening.
The Guilty Ones, essentially Dave Alvin’s touring band, are a strikingly impressive bunch. Guitarist Chris Miller, sporting his familiar long pigtails performs with minimal expression or emotion, letting his stunning playing do his bidding. Bass player, Brad Fordham, with his cocked hat and cool persona provides not just razzamatazz, but the backbone to the band. Drummer Lisa Pankratz, in her shiny sequined blue blouse, is anything but back of stage, driving the band forward and injecting real energy into their sound.
‘Silverlake’, a Steve Young song covered on the album, was accompanied by a generous tribute to the country-rock pioneer who passed away in 2016. ‘Long White Cadillac’ came with a back story. Alvin explained that although he rarely writes when on the road, he had written that song in Manchester when his band, The Blasters, had supported Nick Lowe’s short-lived collaboration with Paul Carrack, Noise to Go, at Manchester Polytechnic (remember those?) in the 1980’s.
Two more tracks from the album followed; Alvin’s ‘Billy the Kid and Geronimo’ and a high-octane version of the Lightnin’ Hopkins song ‘Buddy Brown’s Blues’. Perennial favourite ‘Fourth of July’ then provided a crowd pleasing inclusion from the back catalogue. Another musical tribute, this time to the great lyricist Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead, who died in September this year, was performed in the shape of ‘Ripple’. Alvin’s lament to his hometown ‘Dry River’ evinced a more reflective tone, before the band hit the home straight with two great singalongs, firstly the Youngbloods’ 1967 peace anthem ‘Get Together’ followed by Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s own classic ‘Dallas’. It was a tumultuous ending to a hugely impressive and entertaining set.
The encore began with a lovely cover of Sam Cooke’s ‘Bring it on Home’ before exploding into a blistering rendition of Alvin’s ‘Marie, Marie’ which also incorporated a reprise of ‘Downey to Lubbock’ and culminated in ‘Down by the Riverside’ the old spiritual adopted as an anti-war song. It was a breathless climax to an astonishing evening. Both artists have rather more years performing behind them than they are likely to have ahead. However, they have clearly lost none of their love or enthusiasm for what they do. Make no mistake, this was no backward-looking nostalgia trip, more a celebration of a mutual friendship and heritage. That celebration was gratefully shared by a crowd, most of whom appeared to have been with them for much of their journey.