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Los Angeles Times

Rock review, Blasters at FitzGerald's

The original Blasters played every gig like it could be their last. Little wonder they were around for only six years.

That intensity was back Wednesday in the first of two shows at FitzGerald's, a brief reunion tour that didn't back off an inch from the original sound or mission, circa 1979-85: old-school rockabilly and R&B played at punk-rock velocity and volume. Cavernous reverb straight out of Sun Studios, 1954, gave vocals and guitar the authority of God, and bass lines pierced the chest and danced right back down the spine.

The individual Blasters may have gone their separate ways the last 17 years, but the swagger was back, and so was the sweat-streaked grimace of singer Phil Alvin. "I'm shakin'," he stuttered, a voice of reckoning racked by a sob. "I'm so jittery." Dave Alvin offered an outwardly calmer presence than his wired-to-the-gills brother, but proved just as volatile.

He razored riffs into the arrangements, and built his solos like he was flooring a T-Bird: massive surf licks in "Long White Cadillac" and a spin-cycle whirlpool on "Dark Night." John Bazz's bass lines, supported by Bill Bateman's hard-swinging drums, couldn't have been more explicit, a big, bold sonic blueprint for boogalooing that even three-legged dogs could have followed.

Gene Taylor, with his porkpie hat, goatee and cigar, is the band's unsung hero, a throwback with his "Rocket 88"-style piano playing and plush baritone singing. Once again the Blasters' astute choice in unjustly obscure oldies┬Ś"I'm Shakin'," "Cryin' for My Baby," Leiber and Stoller's "One Bad Stud"┬Śmelded with Dave Alvin's originals until it was impossible to distinguish the eras. From the Tex-Mex bounce of "Border Radio" and the hyper-rockabilly of "American Music" to the more contemporary shadings of "Dark Night," this was a century of musical tradition compressed into a 20-song, 90-minute evening.

"Common Man" provided punctuation for the previous night's election, an Alvin original that hasn't lost an ounce of its blue-collar relevance since it was written in 1984. "With one hand on the Bible/He swears he's only here to serve/While everyone says for better or worse/We get what we deserve." In typical Blasters fashion, the song flew past, almost giddy with delight despite its dire lyric.

Then came Dave Alvin's solo, and it spoke louder than his eloquent lyrics, stuffing an old Creedence Clearwater Revival riff through a trash compactor, and letting it grind. American music, indeed.

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