Half A Review Of Alejandro Escovedo And The Sensitive Boys, El Paso’s Reyn Theatre, March 11, 2011
I had the privilege of being at Alejandro Escovedo’s show in El Paso last Friday night. It was my first time to see him live. Unfortunately, I had to be up at 4 to catch a flight out of town and he didn’t go on until after 10, so I knew as I walked in I wasn’t going to make it to the end of the show. I saw enough, however, to confirm my at-a-distance opinion (and an opinion shared by his biggest fan, The Boss): This 60-year-old ex-punk musician is a great performer. Mr. Escovedo writes a helluva song, plays a great guitar, and has a tight, talented band.
What I didn’t expect was the volume. We were standing near the front of the stage at the beginning of the show. My brother, who came with me, retreated to the back during the first song. I’m not sure what he said before he left, but he pointed at his ear, and I knew what he meant. I stayed, willing to give up a little hearing to be close to the action. When the band got around to playing a couple of acoustic tunes (Juarez and Rosalie), the amazing finger picking of guitarist David Pulkingham was like the proverbial pin drop (after my ears had had time to decompress). This is not a complaint. Although my tastes run to acoustic music as a rule, it was great to see an excellent band playing it loud for a change. When rock music is played well and loud, it is something to behold.
Among others, Mr. Escovedo and the boys played Tender Heart, Sensitive Boys, Chelsea Hotel ’78, Castanets (I Like Her Better When She Walks Away) and an extended tease on Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog intro (Mr. Escovedo said something about the Sensitive Boys not being much of a Zeppelin cover band when he cut it off), which were all sublime. I dig the conflicting chorus lyrics in Chelsea Hotel and they’re even better when the song is played live. Ditto for the chorus in Castanets, which I understand George W. liked enough to put on his iPod. Well, I suppose we had to have something in common.
I wanted to stay for the end of the show but it was either stay up all night and go straight to the airport or walk the 4 blocks back to the Doubletree and get a few hours rest. There was a day when I would have done option a, but not anymore. It’s hell getting old. When we walked out the door, we left behind a guy on stage in black clothes who seemed like he was going to rock till whenever, then be sitting in the van first thing the next morning with a cup of coffee, ready to roll. He has more than a decade on me. Impressive.
If you don’t know much about Mr. Escovedo, here’s a really good article about him and his band in the El Paso Times on the day of show. Apparently the show started too late for the Times to make it out, or at least I couldn’t find a review if it did, so I guess I get some credit for actually going and posting this review, even if it’s only half a review.
As good as the show was, I am not so much in love with The Reyn. The venue has no way for performers to access the stage without walking through the crowd, which didn’t really bother me, but it is not the best setup for the artists. The acoustics are not great, though I have to concede they were tested by the volume put out by The Sensitive Boys. Mr. Escovedo would have sounded even better in a solid venue. It’s a smaller thing, I guess, but on the walk back to the hotel my brother and I both noted that the bar was poorly stocked and glacially slow. You got the feeling that somebody went to Costco and grabbed a few cases of beer (mostly Miller High Life, apparently), then went to the liquor store and bought a few bottles, then got a couple of volunteers to tend the bar. Everyone on staff was nice, but a music venue charging $30 to get in needs a better bar than your average rave. And despite the cool commercials, Miller High Life sucks. It’s not the official beer of me.