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Alvin brothers revive a wealth of sounds and memories at Knuckleheads

Phil and Dave Alvin and the Guilty Ones performed Friday evening at Knuckleheads’ Garage.
Phil and Dave Alvin and the Guilty Ones performed Friday evening at Knuckleheads’ Garage. tfinn@kcstar.com

Friday night’s show at Knuckleheads was part tribute show and part revival.

Brothers Phil and Dave Alvin were in town with Dave’s band, the Guilty Ones, for a show at the Garage. For nearly two hours they gave a crowd of about 400 a heavy dose of taproot blues and a gust of nostalgia.

The Alvins are best known as the founders of the Blasters, a band from Los Angeles that blended blues, rock, punk, rockabilly and other flavors of roots music. During the first half of the 1980s, they released four studio albums and toured relentlessly, reviving and reinvigorating sounds and styles that flourished decades earlier.

Dave Alvin left the band in the mid-1980s to start a solo career, and the Blasters went on without him. Two years ago, the brothers recorded a tribute album, “Common Ground: Dave and Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy,” a man of deep influence on the Blasters.

The set list Friday night included several songs from that album, each performed with a mix of devotion, precision and brawn. It also included several tributes to Kansas City native Big Joe Turner, another deep influence. Phil Alvin has a voice that is as mighty as it is expressive, and he poured it effusively into numbers like “Cherry Red Blues,” “Hide and Seek” and “Trucking Little Woman.” Dave Alvin took lead vocals on a few of those, including Broonzy’s “Southern Flood Blues.”

They paid respects to other elders like Willie Dixon (“Sit Down, Baby”), James Brown (a blistering rendition of “Please, Please, Please”), Oscar Brown Jr. (“Mr. Kicks”) and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet (“The World is in a Bad Condition”).

The Guilty Ones are a well-honed machine, led by their founder, Dave Alvin, who showed off plenty of prowess on lead guitar all night. Dave also was the lead personality, delivering anecdotes and tossing off one-liners throughout the set.

He orchestrated a hand-holding ritual between Phil and himself as a means of proving that the sibling bond is unbreakable and indelible and able to survive estrangement and the deepest of grudges. It also has made for some of the most durable and compelling music in rock history.

The rest of the set paid tribute to Dave’s acclaimed solo career and songs like “Johnny Ace is Dead,” a volcanic rendition of “Dry River” (which included a dandy drum solo by Lisa Pankratz) and “Fourth of July” (part of the encore).

The songs that aroused the loudest ovations and heartiest singalongs, however, were the Blasters tunes: “Border Radio,” “American Music” and “Marie, Marie,” which ignited lots of uninhibited dancing up front. The Alvins shared in the glee, playing each with enthusiasm and pride — not only for the music they were known for but also for the music they grew up with, the music that so heavily influenced them, the music that resonates.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

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