The Blasters So that's what the Blasters look like. The long-disbanded, temporarily-reunited 1980s California roots-rock quintet, fronted by brothers Phil and Dave Alvin, played to a sold-out Birchmere on Wednesday night and left an impression that will not soon be forgotten.
The undeniable organic power of the band never waned during the performance, which was a study in building melodic tension and resolving it with manic coolness. As one song ended, the anticipation for the next increased, because it was clear that the band was capable of that invigorating, transcendent frenzy that great rock bands can create.
Dave Alvin's dynamic solos on electric guitar sent chills from the show's opener, the impeccably tight rave-up "Red Rose," to the inevitable third encore, "Marie Marie," which brought the audience to its feet and Alvin leaping into the air.
Despite slight hoarseness, vocalist Phil Alvin ripped through the set, propelled not only by his brother's thrilling accompaniment but also by the relentless barrelhouse piano of Gene Taylor, who pounded out the melodies to "American Music," "Long White Cadillac," "Border Radio," "So Long Baby Goodbye," "Blue Shadows" and "Trouble Bound." Throughout the night, the sinewy rhythm battery of bassist John Bazz and drummer Bill Bateman provided an essential rockabilly beat.
"Next time, a dance floor," Dave said as he departed the stage, giving hope that the Blasters may blast yet again. Is it too early for nominations for Best Live Performance of the Year?
-- Buzz McClain Pork Tornado An interesting band of musical misfits from Vermont entertained a small but lively audience at the 9:30 club Wednesday night.
Anchored by Phish drummer Jon Fishman, Pork Tornado, which started as a funk cover band and side project for Fishman five years ago, has moved into blues-rock and country territory. It released an album in October and has been a full-time band for the last year during Phish's hiatus.
Casually wandering onstage, the band started off conversationally. Seemingly lacking drumsticks, Fishman joked that he would play the entire show with his pinkies. Sax player Joe Moore grabbed the attention visually with his bright yellow Mr. Potato Head shirt, sunglasses and red spiky wig. He started the 2 1/2-hour set with a funk song, exclaiming, "I wanna blow my horn!"
Equally eccentric was guitarist Dan Archer, who played in a red velour blazer and black beret. His original "Chained to a Stump" was dark and bizarre, but culminated in an exquisite guitar solo. The clean-cut keyboard player, Phil Abair, brought his countrified original "Home Is Where You Are" to the mix. And startlingly pale bass player Aaron Hersey served up blues and funk originals with a healthy dose of soul, plus covers of Jimmy Cliff and Allen Toussaint songs.
The band delivered some treats, but one had to be patient with the odd mix of genres and its members' quirky sense of humor. At one point, Fishman proudly proclaimed: "We bring the pork to the people!"
-- Carrie Nieman
Curtis Stigers Singer and saxophonist Curtis Stigers knows what it's like to be a pop star. His self-titled 1991 debut album sold 2 million copies and spawned the Top 10 hit "I Wonder Why." But to judge by his performance at the Wolf Trap Barns on Wednesday night, Stigers is happier pursuing jazz these days, even in venues that are only half full.
Perhaps that's because Stigers is dealing with the music on his own terms. Over the course of two sets, to keep things from getting stale he drew on songs by Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, Randy Newman and other unlikely candidates. He also saluted jazz composer Dave Frishberg's wonderfully wry songcraft and frequently extracted a full-bore tone from his tenor sax that evoked vintage swing and jive sounds. His raspy yet agile voice sometimes echoed the sound of his horn, gliding through a register or spilling out flurries of notes during scat passages.
Among the highlights were several tunes from Stigers's most recent CD, "Secret Heart," including the Harold Arlen-E.Y. Harburg gem "Down With Love." The most telling performance, however, was the self-penned "Swingin' Down at 10th & Main," a spirited homage to the late jazz pianist Gene Harris. Prior to his pop success, Stigers used to jam with Harris, an experience that continues to pay dividends.
As for his pop hits, Stigers earnestly resurrected a few ballads during a solo acoustic guitar set. But he sounded far more inspired when indulging his taste for exuberant or slightly off-center jazz with the help of pianist Matthew Fries, bassist Greg Ryan and drummer Keith Hall.
-- Mike Joyce