Alejandro Escovedo at Johnny D’s, Somerville, MA- 2/13
After hearing many good things about this fine punk/country/classic-rock
musician from Austin, I finally got a chance to see Alejandro Escovedo at
Johnny D's club. I'd listened to one of his recent albums, "Bourbonitis
Blues," so I had some idea of his talent. And a friend of mine, one who'd
caught Escovedo's last performance at Johnny D's, had been urging me not to
miss this one, pointing out by way of explanation that "last time through,
he left a quart of blood on stage."
I wasn't sure I was ready for that, but it did help motivate me to catch
the show. When Escovedo took the stage, I soon understood what all the
good words were all about. The four-member band eased into the set with a
string of beautifully dark and atmospheric acoustic tunes, with Escovedo's
forceful, full-throated singing cutting through the post-dinner haze.
It was a pretty full house and you could tell Alejandro had a loyal local
following, as the crowd was enthusiastic and paying attention. Escovedo was
backed by a cello player, a drummer, and a keyboard/guitar
player, who also added vocal harmonies. The cello was featured in almost
every song and it worked wonders, adding a lovely, sweeping-swaying
undertow to the proceedings. Escovedo performed mainly on acoustic guitar,
but he switched to electric for several crunching, crowd-pleasing rock songs.
The evening's quieter, darker songs were equally effective and
appreciated. A fan's shouted request for "Pissed Off 2 A.M." yielded a
riveting mid-show highlight, as Escovedo somehow succeeded with the ballad
(autobiographical?) of a failed rock star who realizes he's "too old to
wear leather pants." Another compelling original was Escovedo's
heart-ripping, liquored-up stumble through "I Was Drunk."
During one song-break, Escovedo reminisced about a tour of Italy he'd
undertaken many years ago, with Rick Danko, Jonas Fjeld, Joe Ely and Jimmie
Dale Gilmore. That must've been an incredible series of shows for some
lucky Italian music fans, but Alejandro's chief recollection was of
late-night gambling and losing lots of money to Joe Ely. I suppose I'd
remember that, too.
Escovedo also mentioned that when he settled in Austin many years ago, he
quickly became a huge fan of the celebrated Texas
singer/songwriter/drinker, Townes Van Zandt. Escovedo said he soon wound
up following Townes all over Austin. "I was basically stalking the man,"
he recalled, "which in Townes's case, wasn't all that hard to do." In
memory of Van Zandt, Escovedo proceeded to silence the room with the lovely
and haunting ballad, "Follow You Down."
Two outstanding covers were of Iggy Pop's, "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and Ian
Hunter's, "I Wish I Was Your Mother." Escovedo provided a lengthy intro to
the Iggy classic, explaining how a young James Osterberg somehow got to
drinking absinthe late one night with Bela Bartok in a Texas bar, a jukebox
playing ambient Brian Eno music in the background, which led to a torrid
one-night affair that resulted in Iggy penning his masterpiece, "I Wanna Be
Your Dog." Or something like that! Anyway, like the true punk rocker that
once he was, Escovedo completely nailed the passionate frenzy of the
song. It caught me completely off-guard and left the crowd roaring its
I'm not sure why Escovedo is still relegated to playing in small-ish
nightclubs, but it sure turned out to be the perfect place for an introduction.
The night's opening act, Jabe, proved to be the perfect appetizer. The
group has recently been nominated for a Boston Music Award in the Roots
Rock category. Performing as a duo on this occasion, with
songwriter-frontman Jabe Beyer on guitar and harmonica, and the amazing
Sean Staples on mandolin, the pair delivered a terrific mix of folk,
country-rock and bluegrass material. Their dramatic rendering of Dylan's
anti-war narrative, "John Brown," was one of many fine offerings.