Alejandro Escovedo Tribute – Las Manitas (Austin, TX)
“You look good, Alejandro,” singer Nicholas Tremulis said to Alejandro Escovedo, who for a change was attending a South By Southwest concert in the back room of the Mexican cafe Las Manitas instead of hosting one.
“Maybe a little too good,” Tremulis continued, joking. “I don’t know about all this illness business. I think you’ve just got your eye on a new Mazerati.”
Would that were the case. Escovedo is suffering from serious complications related to hepatitis C, a disease he has been battling in recent years without the aid of health insurance. Concerts have been organized across the country to help defray the cost of his medical bills, and a benefit album, Por Vida, will be released later this year on Or Music, featuring Los Lobos, Jackson Browne, Billy Corgan, John Cale, John Langford & Sally Timms, Bob Neuwirth, and many others, each of whom will cover a song by Escovedo.
A handful of artists contributing to the album performed at this show: Cale, Neuwirth, Langford & Timms, Chris Stamey, Los Lonely Boys, Rosie Flores, and Tremulis. The sets were kept short — two songs apiece (one Escovedo tune and one of their own). Stamey noted that the show’s organizers told him to sing the song he recorded for Por Vida and to follow it with his signature song. “But I don’t really have one I sign my checks with yet,” he deadpanned. Stamey contributed “One True Love,” a song he produced for Escovedo last year that has been available only at the www.alejandrofund.com website. Then he played “Something Came Over Me”, a gorgeous reverie he said he wrote one night after seeing the True Believers perform.
Los Lonely Boys tore into an acoustic version of Escovedo’s “Castanets” and then showed off their brotherly harmonies on a sweet, soulful rendition of their own “Heaven”. Rosie Flores, the only performer detail-oriented enough to make sure her nail polish matched the hue of her blue guitar, sang her own whimsical western swing tune “Aromatherapy Cowgirl”, then changed gears with an impassioned reading of “Inside This Dance”, which she had sung on the soundtrack album for the theater project By The Hand Of The Father.
Langford & Timms forewent their original and sang two Escovedo tunes, first a quirky version of “Broken Bottle” that featured a thumb piano, and then “Sad & Dreamy”, which Langford called his favorite Escovedo song “because he got a bunch of kids to write it for him.” (The song was written with an elementary school class as part of a visit by Escovedo and fellow Austin songwriter Michael Fracasso.)
Neuwirth noted it was appropriate that this show was taking place at Las Manitas, because By The Hand Of The Father “was gestated in this room and first performed in this room,” referring to workshop performances of the piece held at previous SXSW festivals. Backed by Cale on piano, Neuwirth brought the room to a hush as he quietly sang Escovedo’s “Rosalie”, his ragged voice perfectly capturing the longing and world-weariness of the song’s protagonist. Stunning as that performance was, he then topped it with his own “The Call,” a long, winding memoir that he dedicated to Kris Kristofferson, who was in the audience and nodded in appreciation.
Cale returned for a dark-hued, meditative take on “She Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” and one of his own songs, but not before Tremulis summed up all the performers’ feelings by saying of Escovedo, “Some things are a blessing in disguise. A guy who’s spent 30 years on the road gets to take a little break for a while.”
A little break, yes. But hopefully one that is only temporary.