Los Straitjackets & Dave Alvin and The Guilty Ones at Club Helsinki

*Note: the following post is a guest entry by a friend of mine, M.T., who recently attended this show.
A straitjacket conjures up images of restraining individuals whose behavior is considered “extreme” by society, but on the evening of June 19th, 2011 the belts that held the unstoppable adrenaline rush of rock and roll were loosened as Los Straitjackets and Dave Alvin and The Guilty Ones took the stage at Club Helsinki in Hudson, NY. What followed were two and a half hours of the most energetic, gritty, no nonsense, in your face rock that was only surpassed by the on-stage presence of these giants of surf and roots rock.
In Mexico, “Lucha libre,” or “free wrestling,” combines athleticism with theater. Over-the-top moves, flamboyant costumes and the drama of the loser having to remove his mask to reveal his true identity are just as important as the skill each wrestler has to defeat his opponent. Appearing on stage sporting garish luchador masks, matching bowling shirts and glittering instruments, Los Straitjackets make a statement that the audience is going to be in for a unique experience, even before the opening chord is played. Spanning their 14 year career, the Straitjackets’ set list included such highlights as the abrasive “Itchy Chicken,” their surf-tastic cover of Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing,” and a lilting “University Blvd.” that flowed from Eddie Angel’s guitar like a warm summer breeze. Having not seen a Straitjackets show before, I was floored watching drummer Jason “Teen Beat” Smay musically dueling lead guitarist Eddie Angel and performing his solo on “Sing, Sing, Sing.” Smay’s performance especially made the whole evening memorable for me as a percussionist. After you watch his sticks splinter in the middle of a solo like a surfboard on a rough wave, there is no way you can listen to a Straitjacket’s studio album the same way again! Eddie Angel, Danny Amis and Pete Curry also brought in their own sense of flair and musicianship to the set as they musically grappled with each other; they kick lined and ran into the audience like their professional wrestling counterparts, all the while showing superior musicianship and precision in their music. Rounding off their set with the blistering rendition of the theme song from the 1960s Batman TV series, Los Straitjackets bid their warmhearted and entertained crowd fairwell as Roots Rock pioneer Dave Alvin approached the mic with The Guilty Ones.
Shamefully unfamiliar with Grammy Award winning artist Dave Alvin and his work with The Blasters, I didn’t know what to expect but was pleasantly surprised after hearing his opening “Fourth of July,” a wonderful mix of country, folk and rock that takes the listener on a journey to the backwoods of the American heartland. Throughout his performance Alvin blended music with autobiography on such songs as “Long White Cadillac” (in which he claimed, “my brother sang it better, but I always get the lyrics right”), “Ashgrove” and the moving “Black Rose of Texas,” a song off his newly released LP “Eleven Eleven,” dedicated to late Guilty Women violinist Amy Farris. Alvin not only knows how to write captivating lyrics and has a mastery of guitar that makes the most confident virtuoso blush, but he also has an eye for spotting talent. His backing band “The Guilty Ones,” which includes drummer Lisa Pankratz of Guilty Women fame, is able to keep up with the changing tempos and styles that Alvin’s songs encompass.
In the age of autotune and digital production, it’s rare to find an artist who is as honest and talented as Dave Alvin. He is just a man with a guitar and a message. His music transcends geographic boundaries and time, bringing those lucky enough to see him this past Sunday on a journey across space and time. As we move foreword in life, we often lose that innocence that led us on this long journey of self-discovery and wonder, changing who we are in the process. For Dave Alvin, he holds onto that last piece of his childhood by a thread. His songwriting speaks from the heart and makes us all reflect on those moments and people we have lost, found and encountered on our journey through time and for one brief shining moment, the audience was transported back to a time and place long since passed.
If you thought it was over by the time Dave ended his set with the energetic, high octane blast of “Marie Marie” which had everyone getting out of their seats and onto the dance floor, you would be sadly mistaken. “We have lost our pals….[I don’t know what they look like] ‘cause they all wear masks,” Alvin proclaimed to the expectant audience. As a special encore treat, Los Straitjackets and Dave Alvin and The Guilty Ones played the timeless summer anthem “California Sun.” You could feel the energy in the room rise as everyone sacrificed their inhibitions and restraint for the musical equivalent of “the perfect wave.” This night will always be remembered by me as “the perfect gig”; the one show that blends fantastic musicianship with onstage performance and begs the listener to free themselves to the primal expression that is music. Like veteran surfers on a tsunami sized wave, these talented musicians had full control over the chaos of their art and we beach goers were held in awe of their skill and showmanship. For one night, Los Straitjackets and Dave Alvin and the Guilty Ones were the “Big Kahunas of Hudson, NY”
Videos from the show:
Los Straitjackets – dueling solos
Los Straitjackets – Jason Smay solo
Los Straitjackets – Batman theme song
Dave Alvin and The Guilty Ones – Harlan County Blues
Dave Alvin and The Guilty Ones – Black Rose of Texas
Dave Alvin and The Guilty Ones – Long White Cadillac

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