It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Alejandro Escovedo live so I jumped at the chance to see him in an intimate venue, lougeside at Strange Brew. As I suspected, it was an acoustic show, with Warren Hood accompanying him on violin and the incomparable Brian Standefer, a long standing member of Alejandro’s orchestra, on cello. The room was packed, both sitting and standing and judging from the applause, with long time fans. I’ve seen the True Believers, Buick McKane, Alejandro’s Orchestra, Rank and File and the Sensitive Boys. In every case, he rocked – which he does just fine with a cello and violin, as his orchestra shows in this video from Bonnaroo in 2009.
So how did he get that edge with only an acoustic guitar, violin and cello? They all took turns being the drum. Granted, Alejandro’s rhythm guitar (and guitar body) did most of the time keeping, but the violin and cello provided an amazing array of textures and back beats. Syncopation aside, the silver string posse (whom Alejandro thanked profusely and often) drove us to our feet by their sheer virtuosity and the tripped out intensity of their soaring riffs. They were possessed by the music, reminding me of another time I saw someone so spellbinding. I caught harmonica player Sugar Blue playing with Willie Dixon at the old Club Foot (now long gone) in a jaw dropping performance – Pan personified.
Warren Hood is a more recent addition to Alejandro’s roster. I haven’t yet seen him with his fusion new grass band, the Hoodlums but have fond memories of seeing his father, Champ Hood play with equal versatility. Susan Voelz is the rock violinist who normally tours with Alejandro, but I am so glad to have seen Warren and Brian Standefer throw down.The battle of the strings was fierce, truly mesmerizing. I didn’t take any video footage but sure wish I had.
Of course, there were the stories. With a mixture of songs like the raucous “Everybody Loves Me” shown above, the taut, political lament “Sally Was a Cop” and soulful ballads like Arizona, the small listening room was a perfect setting for the journey we took with Alejandro. From the time he left San Antonio with his family as a child (he is the 7th of 12 children) to growing up in California, then as a punk rocker living in the Chelsea Hotel in NYC with the Sex Pistols, and back to Austin, we were part of his crooked frame. We remembered days when the flow of migrants in an out of Mexico was easier, when his father left Saltillo to find his parents in California. Alejandro’s wife Bobbi’s suicide and his own near fatal illness were part of a story that connected the styles, times and vagaries of Alejandro’s Hard Road. All the stories kept coming back to the way music healed him emotionally, when medication, therapy and alcohol could not. Truth, a passionate heart and the poetry of life are the real gifts of this artist and why we keep coming back to see what’s new in Alejandro’s story.