Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
lejandro Escovedo has enjoyed life's ups and downs - a lot of the times, the downs seemed to overtake him with serious health and abuse issues. But based on this evening's outing, one must think everything is just great in Esco's universe.
The roots rocker - on this night, Escovedo and his backing band went more for the rock, though other styles certainly were part of the mix - is touring behind his very fine new CD, the autobiographical "Real Animal," an eclectic musical potpourri as well.
Escovedo cuts a somewhat diminutive figure live, but that's only in his physical stature. The fact of the matter is that between his very fine singing and how he puts the songs and his band together, it all works. As he has in the past, Escovedo toured with a string duo of cello and fiddle. The role of Brian Standefer and Susan Veolz respectively became more prominent as the evening went along. Voelz and Escovedo faced off at one point, for example, in a violin vs. guitar duo, and both stood their ground quite well. There was a whole lot of power in those strings.
Long-time guitarist David Pulkingham was stellar on leads, including slide guitar runs, adding a lot of solid fills. Hector Munoz, 23 years and counting as Escovedo's drummer, set a sturdy beat throughout.
As the focal point, Escovedo was in strong form as the band leader and singer. The song selection was superb with Escovedo playing music from or at least about various periods of his career. That meant songs like the somewhat rootsy, but rocking "Always a Friend," the country of "Sister Lost Soul" and the punky intense "Chelsea Hotel '78" and "Sensitive Boys," a song from about his True Believers days and dedicated to fellow band member and brother Javier, to "Rosalie," a Mexican sounding song as part of two songs about his father.
Escovedo channeled his best Iggy Pop on "Real As An Animal," a song about Iggy Pop, an artist Escovedo said he loved. He and band rocked out. Escovedo also did not play guitar on this song - the only time during the evening - allowing him to move about the stage and display even more energy.
Escovedo closed his regular set with "Castanets." He recounted that he stopped playing the song once it was reported that it was on President Bush's iPod. "The reason we're doing this song again is we're celebrating the fact he's leaving D.C.," he said, adding, "The only bummer is that he's coming back to Texas." The musicians then tore into the rootsy rocker, which was more rock flavored.
A very energized Escovedo closed the evening with encore covers of "All the Young Dudes" (his producer Tony Visconti also produced this song for David Bowie's version) and the Stones' "Beast of Burden," closing out a very fine, uplifting night.
(Photo of Alejandro Escovedo by Michael Gilman)