You know, it might seem easy to write off the Blasters as “hey, you know, that great old rockabilly band.” But if that’s what you were thinking comin’ into Valentine’s Music Hall on Friday night, Phil Alvin and the boys probably had your head spinning by the time you walked down those stairs at the end of the night.
Don’t get me wrong. The Blasters are indeed a great rockabilly band, but they’re also so much more than that. They were playing “roots rock” long before the term was coined. And the same goes for “Americana.”
On Friday night, they blitzed Valentine’s by cutting a mighty wide swath across musical genres.
You want jazz? Alvin lent his demonic howl of a voice to the old Louis Armstrong chestnut, “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You,” which he introduced with the pithy and pointed, ” Is there anybody that you want dead? Well, we’ll try to help you out with this next song. Of course, if it’s me that you want dead, could you wait til I finish the song?”
You want funk and soul? It takes a pair of gigantic balls to even think about attempting to perform James Brown’s classic screamer, “Please, Please, Please.” Alvin and his crew not only did it, but they did it marvelously well. And Alvin’s trademark grimace/grin never looked more maniacal or desperate, as when he was begging ‘n’ pleading.
You want gospel? You shoulda been there for the encore of “Samson and Delilah” (also known as “If I Had My Way”). A Bible story has never rocked quite as hard as this – with drummer Bill Bateman defiantly smoking a cigarette, as he literally made the stage shake.
You want country music? How about a blazing, house-a-fire tear through that Johnny Paycheck nugget, “The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised”? Pure musical arson…
You want surf music? Alvin turned the reins over to guitarslinger Keith Wyatt, who rumbled through the pitch-black, ominous, minor-key surf ‘n’ twang instrumental “The Boneyard,” evoking the late, great Link Wray. And the whole crowd was hangin’ ten.
You want Brill Building pop gems? The Blasters’ pumped out their show-closing rendition of Leiber and Stoller chestnut “One Bad Stud” with such abandon and ferocity that bassist John Bazz broke a bass string. When was the last time you saw that happen?
You want Hispanic music? Would you believe a scorching, late-set rendition of one of the Blasters’ trademark tunes, “Marie, Marie” … sung by Alvin in Spanish?!?
So, yes, the Blasters are a great band. Just don’t limit them to rockabilly.
And if you’re looking for another blast from the Blasters, they’ll be playing at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Mass. at 7pm on Wednesday.
“The old bastards brought the A game, eh?” – Howe Glassman, Valentine’s head honcho
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk