Monday, April 02, 2007

Alejandro Escovedo -- "The Boxing Mirror"

I really wish I could say that I saw some really incredible guitar playing last Saturday night. I can't. What I was able to discern five feet and two inches above the crowd (which ain't above the crowd when you're dug in near the bar, mind you) was an absolutely incredible artist with an amazing backing band tear down and rebuild a standing room only crowd at Club Cafe in Pittsburgh's South Side. How could I have missed this guy for so many years?! Okay, so I missed the drunken ride and got to hear his sober passion (that's PASSION, all in caps) strung out across the venue like Christmas lights.

Alejandro played with two celloists, a violinist, and two guitarists. My tall scouts for the stage reported back the instruments before the show started.

"No drumset?" I asked.

"No drums," came the reply from their tip-toed position above the crowd.

The three of us stood in awe for a moment, comprehending the immensity of his band's sound with the fact that he don't need no stinkin' drums, man. Well, alrighty then! Bring 'em on!

I kind of cheated for this show, having seen his live set on Austin City Limits (ACL), but figured there was no way in hell's half acre that he could load up that tiny stage with a quintet. I failed to register the fact that he had no drummer. Blame it on a late night or one too many beers, I reckon'. I was ecstatic that the entire ACL band was in attendance for the night's show.

My friends, Jeff and Christine, had caught his ACL act too (blew them away) and that was the only reason they were out slumming in the South Side with us that night. My girlfriend, Theresa, asked me what he looked like and I described him like this: he's tall, very hispanic looking, dark skinned, thin, wears a suit, and has very tidy hair. I can't say he's all that tall after having him wade past me to get to the green room to prep but the rest of the description fit. He wore a ruffled tux shirt underneath a black jacket and literally glided through the packed room. The guy's got mojo on top of mojo.

His band is tight. Think shoehorn tight and you'd be close. They complement each other and work through the expanding punk-like instrumental segues like butter gliding across an english muffin. It's rough in spots and gels in heavenly pools at moments. It's almost more than your lyrical brain, tapping toe, and personal spiritual journey can simultaneously take all in one crescendoed moment. (is that a word?) It's great jamming passion reminiscent of the old Doors or Dead but not nearly as long ... although some songs must have clocked in around ten minutes. He opened with Baby's Got New Plans, a soaring testiment to the tightness of the band and his vocal abilities. He hooked me on the first swell.

Stand outs included Dear Head on the Wall penned by his wife, poet Kim Christoff, from a truck stop with the only phone reception in the area that unfortunately for the vegan (then girlfriend of Alejandro) Christoff featured all sorts of dead animals on the walls. Alejandro told a great story about the poem yet confided that he really didn't understand it entirely but got the gist of it. Lucky for us, eh?

His quintet really broke loose for Break This Time, a rollicking tune underscored by life's tragedies (perhaps his nearly life-ending battle with Hepatitis C a few years back?) He performed a good number of songs from his acclaimed 2001 "A Man Under the Influence" CD with great gusto. All of the material seemed fresh: he played them with an incredible sensitivity and connection with the material that's often lacking after so much time.

He introduced Castanets with chagrin in knowing that Tony Snow published this as one of President Bush's iPod favorites. Eeeeee-GADS! I'm with you, Al.

All in all, a fantastic show, with many memorable moments and great sidebars from this humble, very talented man and his unbelievable backing band. I really lucked out on this pick and I'm grateful for it. Who knew that a punk upstart could create such musically dense, engaging, and satisfying music filled with strings? And who knew that Sheila E's uncle was such a rocker? And who knew that his entire family (damned near) is just as talented? Not me, that's for sure. What a delightful introduction to a new fav.

I can definitely see how he uses his musical ancestry intermingled with his life path to create his vibe. From latin jazz to rock to punk and alt-country; from Austin to San Fran and all the trips along the way, it's in there. It's a beautiful creation culled from years of artistic influences and personal observation squeezed through the seive of his triumphs and tragedies. When he yells "And everybody says they love me but I don't know why," it's as genuine and resounding today as when he performed it more than eight years ago. Only this time, when he sings the refrain, I'd bet that he gets a lot more love from the audience.

If you want to learn more about Alejandro Escovedo, check out his web site or his my space page for the latest information. Make sure you line up tickets if he's in your town. He will rock your soul.


Blogger bruce said...

I only came across him at about the time he got sick. I thought I'd never see him live. What a treat it is to see him perform.

I don't believe Jon Dee Graham was with him playing guitar this time around. If you thought he rocked with this band, you should see him with Jon Dee. And check out Jon's solo work. Talk about a great unknown artist.

12:25 PM  

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