By Laura Marrich
Think about the resurgence of "rockabilly" in recent years—what's the first thing that springs to mind? Here's a guess: Dudes in cuffed Levi's drinking swill beer until sunrise. Or maybe chicks with Betty Page haircuts (be honest, they're probably big girls) lounging tomb-side in neighborhood graveyards. Cars. Pencil skirts and pompadours. People and things. Whenever post-'50s rockabilly made the transition from subculture to full-blown lifestyle, the music became more-or-less incidental. Lost in translation.
But ask The Blasters the same question and you come away with an entirely different picture. Their rockabilly recalls a simpler American pop culture aesthetic—a time when people danced all night to near-riot-inducing sounds, and guys raced cars along endless expanses of sun-soaked Southern California boulevards. And that's not to say their take on rockabilly is more innocent, because it's not—not by a long shot. It's just a hell of a lot more earnest.
Originally fronted by pointy-haired brothers Phil and Dave Alvin, The Blasters played convincing big boppin' rockabilly in their hometown of Downey, Calif. Where comparable bands of the day were stripped down, The Blasters were on the other end of the spectrum, flushed out with piano, two saxophones, even a harmonica. It was the old school, all right.
They did circuits through California's infamous biker bars of the late '70s, all the while detailing their sound with the ephemera of those god-forsaken people and places. The Blasters chopped their sound with punk's balls-to-the-wall sound explosion, and drew on long, cool pinstripes of rhythm and blues. They called it "roots rock."
By the time they made it the Los Angeles club scene, The Blasters were breathing fire. Bands like Los Lobos and X couldn't help but notice this hard-edged new Americana sound. Before anyone knew what hit them, California had a bona fide roots music revolution on its hands.
These days, Dave has long gone off to do his own thing, but Phil Alvin's voice is as theatrical and cocksure as it ever was. John Bazz' boogie woogie bass lines still have the power to make a dead man get up and dance. And now they're on tour again, supporting their first release in over a decade (4-11-44 on Rainman Records). One thing's for sure: It's going to be loud. Bring your earplugs.
The Blasters play the Launchpad on Saturday, Jan. 14, with The Long Gone Trio. Tickets are $10 at Natural Sound and virtuous.com or $12 at the door.
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Erika Wennerstrom • singer-