Two superb bands painted a vivid and gripping picture of America south of the I-10 Saturday at the Roxy. First, the Iguanas of New Orleans delivered an hour of enticing border music, heavy on the Spanish and the varieties of dance music nurtured across Texas and Louisiana; second, two hours of contemporary Dust Bowl ballads, gritty rockers and a glorious celebration of the common man came from Dave Alvin and his well-honed band.
Both acts were making their first showcase performances since the release of their last albums. The Iguanas, discovered by Jimmy Buffet and signed to his Margaritaville label in the early ’90s, issued earlier this year their finest album to date, “Sugar Town” on Koch. Alvin, the L.A. native who led the Blasters and wrote all their stellar songs, has been touring for a year and a half since the release of “Black Jack David” (Hightone), one of last year’s smartest discs.(Daily Variety, Aug. 25, 1998).
The Iguanas specialize in good-time music and with a unique two-saxophone front line buoyed by accordion, they deftly tackle Mexican norteno, vintage-style New Orleans rockers and Texas jump blues with the occasional cumbia thrown in for good measure. It’s roots music with no apologies; as much as some may feel this is where Los Lobos was 15 years ago, there’s a definite progression and enhancement from their early records and tours with Buffet. Making joyful music is no easy task and the Iguanas hit the mark consistently.
Alvin has created a body of work from outposts such as Riverside and Aberdeen, Texas, inside coffee shops, cheap hotel rooms and bars, and placed his hard-living characters at emotional and life-altering crossroads. He gives his characters some hope and never celebrates some outmoded lifestyle; Alvin’s words, accompanied by an equally vivid guitar style, have almost all come from last 10 years and ring with unblemished relevance. Over the course of two hours, the picture is as distinctly real as any that Woody Guthrie, Tom Waits or Bruce Springsteen has ever painted.
His guitar playing, too, continues to be a focal point of the evening as he delves deeper and deeper in his own blues roots. He handles styles as distinct as Johnny Guitar Watson, Albert King and T-Bone Walker and, in the spirit of his own classic “American Music,” teases the audience with snippets of Doc Pomus’ “Lonely Avenue,” Link Wray’s “Rumble” and Walker’s “T-Bone Shuffle.” And Alvin’s command of an audience is as impeccable as his command of American music forms.