Live Review

Last Train Home / Roger Wallace / '52 Pickup - Falls Church Duckpin Bowling Center (Falls Church, VA)

Last Train Home on January 4, 2003

For almost two years, singer-songwriter Brian McGuire has once a month turned this 1960s-era, 32-lane duckpin bowling alley into a makeshift honky-tonk as part of his Bop 'n' Bowl series, booking nationally known acts (Rosie Flores, Bill Kirchen) and regional ones (Billy Hancock, the Ultra Kings) with the emphasis on roots rock and rockabilly. Bowling (three balls, little pins) is included in the admission price for this giddily anachronistic evening of old-time pastimes and authentic American music.

And, oddly, the clatter of the pins falling never gets in the way of the tunes.

On this night, the lively crowd that filled the joint -- causing a one-game bowling limit -- was drawn by Last Train Home, making its first appearance since frontman Eric Brace's announcement that he's take a leave of absence from his longtime job as the nightclubs/local music columnist for the Washington Post to become bi-urban and pursue greener pastures in Nashville as well as D.C.

How LTH's smart combination of melodic hooks and addictive arrangements that build to intense (but not overwrought) resolutions will play in Music City will be interesting to see, but on this night the band presented another of the polished, seamless performances that have made them an area favorite.

Trumpet, tenor sax, lap steel, guitars, bass, drums, and gorgeous harmonies were impressively tight, but loose enough to convey a sense of fun. As usual, the set list included superb originals mixed with distinctive LTH arrangements of hits and obscurities by Hank Williams, Ralph Stanley, Doug Sahm and Herb Alpert ("What Now My Love", with some verses sung in French). Brace, a natural and generous performer, sent his songs over with conviction and a dollop of knowing irony.

That Austin honky-tonk mainstay Roger Wallace was making his area debut was the middle icing on a three-layer cake as he and his band brought a bit of the Continental Club to the duckpin lanes. Wallace, his baritone burnished to a shine, romped through memorable originals such as "Wishful Drinking", "Me And Abalina Jane" and "Don't Nobody Love Me (Like My Baby)" as well as hits by the masters, including George Jones' "White Lightning", for which he was particularly well-suited.

McGuire's trio, '52 Pickup, kicked off the evening with a drummerless set of rockabilly and swing played at a pace and volume that accented McGuire's fine vocals. "Too Much Me, Not Enough You", "Find A New Woman", the hillbilly obscurity "I'm Diggin' A Hole To Bury My Heart" and a cover of Paul Anka's "Late Last Night" highlighted a delirious set of 2:20-minute gems.

Alas, McGuire will have to find a new place to kick out his jams: In keeping with a national trend -- there are only about 70 duckpin centers left -- the Falls Church duckpin alleys are slated for demolition later this year.