Dave Alvin likes to say there are two kinds of folk music, loud and soft -- he plays both. Chuck Pyle tends to play the softer kind, with a good deal of wit and charisma thrown in.
I got to see both Alvin and Pyle this past weekend, spending Sept. 14 at The State Room with Alvin and his Guilty Ones in Salt Lake City, and Sept. 15 at the Twitchell House Concert in Ogden with Pyle.
Alvin played mostly "folk" that he would define as the loud kind, backed by his terrific four-piece band, featuring Chris Miller on guitar, Brad Fordham on bass, and Lisa Pankratz on drums.
A longtime fan, I first saw Alvin on his first big tour with his first band, The Blasters, in 1981.
I've not missed a performance since, if I could, and with that in mind, I can definitely say that he was in great form last Friday. He bantered in easy fashion with the wildly enthusiastic crowd, and his guitar playing came off as particularly fiery and robust. The band was great as always, with Miller sealing the deal with sweet, slide-driven licks, Fordham keeping fat, steady time, and Pankratz, a Peggy-Sue-ponytailed beauty of a rhythm woman, all but stealing the show with her solid backbeat and exuberantly expressive face.
Alvin played a lot of favorites, opening with "Fourth of July," and touching on other tasty tunes from his past, such as "Ashgrove" and "King of California." He also played a number from his newest effort, "Eleven-Eleven," including "Run, Conejo, Run," an homage to his late friend and band member, Chris Gaffney, and the bluesy album lead-off single, "Harlan County Line."
Alvin also played two covers of very different natures -- the lovely traditional tune "Shenandoah," and, in a lively tribute to recently passed songwriter Joe South, "Games People Play."
The big news of the night came with the encore, with Alvin's first-written, and most recognizable, song, "Marie, Marie." He originally wrote it for his older brother, Phil, to sing in The Blasters. Early in the evening, Alvin remarked that Phil died earlier in the summer, in Spain -- but was brought back to life, and was recovering. He said he'd elaborate later and was as good as his word come the encore.
It turns out Phil Alvin came off a Spanish stage suffering a severe breathing episode that stopped his heart twice. The doctor who brought him back to life both times just so happened to be named Marie. It became clear that both Alvins are dedicating the tune to Doctor Marie from this point forward.
My second night of song, with Chuck Pyle, was at Roger and Kara Twitchell's home in Ogden. This was not a private party, but rather a house concert, which is like an open-to-the-public party, filled with music lovers and a top-notch guest artist.
As is typical of most house concerts, the Twitchells had a potluck beforehand. They prepared a number of treats, and then nearly everyone brought something delicious, from wildflower salads to homemade cookies and sweet apple compote. Drinks, including beer, were offered by the hosts for donations of any size.
Many of the audience members (the sold-out show included about 50 guests) were longtime followers of Pyle, some of whom had traveled an hour or more to attend.
This was my first time seeing Pyle, and I was not disappointed. He is renowned for his fingerstyle guitar playing, which was beautiful to behold. He is, as a whole, a charming presence who seemed perfectly at home in the up-close-and-personal space. He spend a good deal of time at intermission talking with fans and selling and signing CDs.
Pyle kept us entertained with stories about his songs, and the people he'd met along the highway. Some fine moments included his song about riding in a glider, "Over the San Luis," and "Here Comes the Water," Pyle's heroic story of a Colorado patrolman who lost his own life saving that of hundreds in a legendary downpour.
He played a fun tune in "Tucson Cactus Queen," a celebration of a desert cutie. Other favorites include the song "Wide Open," a tune which the governor of Wyoming asked Pyle to write after hearing his song about his adopted home state, "Colorado." Pyle didn't end up getting paid for the song by the state, but he did record it, and wisely so. The song grandly captures the rare wildness still abounding in Wyoming. Here's hoping he has a Utah tune brewing!
In a way, these two shows, one magnified, one acoustic, with sitting-versus-dancing crowds, could not be more different. And yet, when it comes down to it, both performers know just how to please their crowd, and their way around a folk song, whether they be 100 years old or of their own recent mint.