Alejandro Escovedo tests String Theory at Strange Brew

TrioIt’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.Brian_Standefer 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.
GuitarWarren 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.WarrenAlejandroThe 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 frameAlejandroWe 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.Alejandro Escovedo

South by South Austin 2013

What’s a local to do among the swarm of music crazed SXSWesters? Some of us were here in the beginning – we’re the ones saying it will never be that cool again.  And we’re right, from our perspective.  But there are ways to savor the flavor without getting trapped.  If someone handed me a Prince ticket I would have braved the crush, but I settled for what promises to become a growing South by South Austin fringe escapade, except for a quick walk across Ladybird Lake to see Alt-J and Richard Thompson (links are to music and interviews). Hats off, by the way, to these Brits for their tasty back beats and edgy vocals.  Running into friends, enjoying the serendipity of roaming – a welcome break in the routine – hunting for musical treasure. Anyone notice that the hipsters are getting younger every year?

Heading to South Congress seemed inevitable and given the 25 years I lived and partied in 78704, a homecoming.  It’s more of a circus these days than it used to be, so rather than dive into the fray I found a stool at Enoteca  and savored a glass of white wine.  Then I headed South.  As chance would have it, I found myself at one of my favorite South Austin restaurants, Evangeline’s. Besides some fine cajun family cooking they have good music, but better get there before 6 or you’ll have to wait for a table. Fueled and ready for a few hours of dancing, we found exactly what we were looking for at the One 2 One, dancing to the funky soul sounds of LZ Love .  The last time I went to the One 2 One I saw Sister 7, another great dance band.  Keep this club on your radar, it has a bigger dance floor than most and is a new venture by Danny Crooks, former impresario of Soap Creek Saloon.  South Lamar and Manchaca now boasts The Saxon Pub, the One 2 One and Strange Brew, recently named best new venue by the Austin Chronicle. Then there’s Patsy’s Cafe off Hwy 71 and Sam’s Town Point,  for a trip from hip into classic Austin. I only stayed for an hour at Sam’s but it was truly a Social Logical experience. I have SXSW to thank for showing me the sad, sweet songs by Rebekah Pulley, the soulful funk of transgender diva LZ Love and Brit sensation’s ALt-J and Richard Thompson’s brief appearance behind the fence at Waterloo Records.  To those who want a taste of SXSW without the parking hassle and badges – South Austin might just be a true haven for the weird.