Dave Alvin describes his new YepRoc album, “West of the West,” as his tribute to the great songwriters of California, including Brian Wilson, Tom Waits and John Fogerty. At his Safari Sam’s gig Saturday night, Alvin added material by one other distinguished Golden State musician: himself.
It should surprise no one (certainly not the sweaty and enthusiastic aud of old friends and family that packed the new Sunset Boulevard club) that his songs made a seamless fit beside Jackson Browne (a low-down and dirty “Redneck Friend” that Alvin described as “the Johnny Guitar Watson version” of the song) and Merle Haggard. Since the Blasters first blew out of Downey in the late ’70s, Alvin’s towering presence — both as a guitarist and musical archaeologist — has made him a true Southern California treasure.
Alvin and his backing band, the Guilty Men, played a set of music that had the clean lines and soaring vistas of a stretch of desert highway. Highlights included Waits’ “Blind Love,” played with an easy, laconic swing; “Abilene” was stretched out for a knockout series of solos, while Alvin took the title of “Out of Control” literally, uncorking his wildest guitar solo of the evening, which included snippets of “My Favorite Things” and various surf riffs. Chris Miller and Joe Terry added their own impressive solos, while Steve Mugalian, in only his second performance with the band on drums, provided a steady yet loose-limbed beat.
I See Hawks in L.A. was a perfect choice to open the show. As the title of their new album, “California Country” (Western Seeds), clues you in, the Hawks draw inspiration from Buck, the Byrds and the Burrito Bros., among others, but with a modern, at times ironic (“Raised by Hippies” and the pot smuggler’s sing-along “Humboldt”) sensibility. On Saturday, their impressive three-part harmonies were often overshadowed by the interplay between guitarist Paul Lacques and guest Rick Shea on pedal steel.