Alejandro Escovedo: The Artist of the Millenium & “Sensitive” Boys Deliver at the Dakota
“That’s it! I give up. No Mas! No Mas! I am never going to see a better live performance so I might as well stop…”
I have been telling myself this after attending almost every one of Alejandro’s shows ever since my brother dragged me to my first Alejandro show at the 4oo Bar on Minneapolis’ funky West Bank back in the late 90s. Having very particular tastes in music, I can be like a mule sometimes when it comes to going out to see something new live. However on this occasion I was somewhat intrigued by all the hype I had heard through the musical grapevine, specifically a little known industry magazine which had anointed some guy named Escovedo “Artist of the Decade”.
“Yeah right…” I thought to myself. I had heard it all many times before. Ever since Jon Landau famously wrote his “I saw the Future of Rock and Roll” review, many artists would be burdened with similar hyperbole, but really, no one had been right since then… .But then again, what if like Landau they’re right? Little did I know how much that show would change my life.
Fast forward a couple decades and I am reading an interview with AE in this week’s City Pages. Someone or thing with the moniker Gimme Noise is asking the questions and was evidently so unfamiliar with Al’s current work that it actually asked the following:
I think folks are stoked about seeing you at a more intimate kind of space like the Dakota. Will it be some of your mellower stuff? You playing solo at all?
“Mellower stuff”‘? “Playing solo”? Gimme Noise you can thank your lucky stoked stars that you didn’t try and peddle that line to the AE of old, cuz it wouldn’t have been pretty. Instead the older, healthier, wiser, kinder and a most grateful AE lets his music make the statement and then practically, no literally apologized (mockingly) between songs, dead panning: “Are we playing too loud for you?” Despite a resounding “Nooooo” from the folks supposedly Stoked for something mellow, “I’m sorry…a faux earnest AE continues “…but that’s how we play!” But wait, I get ahead of myself and this show is deserving of a blow by blow description if there ever was one.
Taking the stage to the strains of the late great No Show Jones and “He Stopped Loving Her Today” Alejandro emerged onto the stage dressed dapper as always from his jet black, well-coiffed, hair (hair so thick I would kill for) down to his pointy black Beatles boots. Waiting as if out of respect until George’s song is nearly done, and after one last minute instruction the band starts with a faint, haunting beat that builds into “Can’t Make Me Run”, a song about drawing your line in the sand, standing your ground for love, off of his latest release Big Station. For the “Don’t give up on Love” call and response towards the end of the song, AE switched over to a dispatcher’s mic, most commonly associated with harp players, to get a distorted, disemboweled sound fitting of the song’s sentiment.
The next number, “Tender Heart” off his previous album Street Songs of Love is one of many songs AE has written over the years with the great Chuck Prophet and continues the relationship theme with the song’s protagonist asking the musical question “I got a dream do you want to be in my dream?”
Next up was one of my faves off the new record “Bottom of the World” about how Austin, like any place, changes (all the California License plates) but hopefully never to become another, God forbid, Houston. Alejandro asked if there were any people in the crowd from Houston and then said in advance he was sorry, not for the sentiment of the song but for them being from Houston. I get it completely. In my line of work I deal with a lot of big firm attorneys out of Houston and whenever I proclaim my love of Austin to them, more than one has made the comment : “Do you know what we refer to Austin as down here in Texas? 320 square miles surrounded by reality”. I could not agree more with the sentiment conveyed in “Bottom of the World” with its disdain for Houston and its overemphasis on money and the superficial and their need to denigrate the good people of Austin. Touché.
Speaking of bottoming out, in his introduction to “Bottom of the World” Alejandro told the first of several hilarious stories. AE told about playing Minneapolis many times over the years and back in his early days staying at a “seedy hotel by the bus station”, Minneapolis’ version of the Chelsea, my words not his. (I think he was referring to either the Inn Towne motel and its seedy Hubcap Lounge or the Seville Hotel above Red’s Roost Bar, all three establishments long defunct). AE told about the time he checked in to a room there only to find a still lit cigarette in the ashtray, still warm bath water drawn in the tub and still warm takeout pizza box. But the worst thing he ever saw at this hotel was Slash doing his laundry while wearing Daisy Duke short shorts. It gives you the willies just thinking about it.
AE then masterly slowed things down a bit with the beautiful “San Antonio Rain” a lush, slow burn number also off of Big Station. Next up was “Sensitive Boys” and AE’s funniest introduction of the night. AE told a story about a trip to Minneapolis very early in his career (I believe 1987) with his then band the True Believers (which band also featured his little brother Javier) to play a Cinco De Mayo show warming up for Los Lobos at First Avenue. Arriving in town early, the True Believers picked up a gig the night before in downtown Minneapolis. The next day at the Cinco De Mayo show he met the headline act and drummer Louie Perez tells him that the night before they had witnessed the worst Country Western band they had ever seen/heard, you guessed it, the band the great Louie Perez was referring to was the True Believers. Ouch!
Following “Sensitive Boys” AE and the songs namesakes played an autobiographical song from his Hand of the Father project, “Wave” before which he reminded the audience of his family’s history, his musician grandfather and how his father ended up in Texas from Mexico. It was while working the fields in Texas that Alejandro’s grandmother would make up stories about the people in the passing trains and how they would pretend they knew them and wave to them. AE also told the story of when, as just a child, his parents abruptly pulled up stakes for a “vacation” to California (where they worked in the fields) eventually winding up in Huntington Beach, never to return to their pets and belongings back in Texas. It is a poignant story that you can tell still affects him to this day.
Ever aware of pacing and dynamics, AE followed the heartfelt with some “Rock and Roll” with a Ramones like cadence to the chorus on “Castanets” but with the blistering guitar that is the songs signature. Alejandro described “Castanets” as being about architecture…(“I liked her better when she walked away”) Following the title track to his latest album, Big Station, was a particularly invigorated version of the staple “Everybody Loves Me But I Don’t know why”. Maybe at one time, but the “moody little bastard” as one promoter once described him, always makes a point each show to genuinely thank those in the online community and others that helped defray his medical bill following his near death experience a few years back in Arizona (also title to song about the long struggle back, which he also played). But every once in a while a little bit of the punk rock cynicism slips out and he lets off a zinger like his Lady Gaga reference (shit!) from the previously mentioned interview by Stokely Carmichael for Gimme Noise or like during the band introduction when someone yelled out “Who are you?” and without missing a beat he quipped back “Huey Lewis”.
The last song before encores was an absolutely stunning version of Young’s “Like a Hurricane”. The dueling guitar work between Alejandro and Jon Sanchez, an absolutely phenomenal guitarist from Baton Rouge who makes it look so effortless. Rounding out the band was the rhythm section with always solid Bobby Daniels on bass and top notch and in demand Austin drummer, Matt Strmiska. Alejandro came back alone to give a dedication to recently deceased Stooges drummer Scott Asheton before delivering a moving version of “Sister Lost Soul” his homage to all his fellow music travelers who are no longer with us. The band was then brought back up for the evenings closer, a raucous version of the Tom Waits’ “Goin’ Out West”* inviting the audience to join in “I’m goin’ out west where I belong, Where the days are short and the nights are long…” but never long enough when it’s Alejandro and his Sensitive Boys!
Set List Dakota Jazz Bar 3/30/201
(Tape: He Stopped Loving Her Today)
Can’t Make Me Run
Bottom of the World hotel slash mt room ch smoke pizza
Rain San Antonio
Sensitive boys (Cinco de Mayo Louie Los Lobos worst true believes)
Everybody loves me
Like a hurricane
Sister lost soul
California Sun*(Correction: Tom Waits’ “Goin out West” but hey I’m Human)
Who r u Huey Lewis