The Alejandro Escovedo Trio Is Heavier Than Motorhead
The protean Alejandro Escovedo formed his act into a power trio last night at the Birchmere. Maybe when we say power trio you think of Cream, or the Jimi Hendrix Experience, or everybody’s favorite, Beck, Bogert and Appice. And yeah, this amalgam was just as thundering, only it was just Al on acoustic, Dave Pulkingham on the same, and Susan Voelz, as always, on the fiddle.
It’s been a winter tradition in these here parts for Alejandro to show up with cellos and Ms. Voelz and Mr. Pulkingham, taking all these erstwhile rockers out for a chamber-music spin. (Warmer parts of the year, at least since Al regained his health, are dedicated to him touring with his rock band. Though Alejandro Escovedo manages his personnel they way Bob Dole managed his presidential campaigns, which is to say, when he can’t figure which team to ride — the rockers or the stringed quartet — he just makes them all work together. For Alejandro, a successful approach. For Dole, not so much. And it is, of course –Alejandro’s rock bands every bit as much as Dole’s campaigns — a spectacle: the cellos choogling, Victor Munoz walloping the skins, one, no two, no three electric guitars fighting for air.) But then last year at about this time he dropped one cellist and came to the Barns at Wolf Trip as a foursome. And then last night it was just the three of them, and damn if they didn’t put out just as much of a sonic hum, though without the cello for ballast, the whole thing seemed to ride higher on the waves.
“Drop a penny in the Indian Ocean,” he sang in the opener, the stunning “Way It Goes,” from 1992′s Thirteen Years, and quickly gone were any doubts about whether Al, playing in just a threesome, would be giving something up. ”Everybody Loves Me” was as great as it is on Room Of Songs, but that version’s performed by a five piece orchestra, and this version had just the three, so they tripled their effort and expended a precisely identical thermal reading. Lots of songs from Real Animal, which does appear to have been something of a breakthrough, and not just artistically. We got to hear about the “Chelsea Hotel ’78,” and yeah, it rocked. And then there was the version of “Deer Head On The Wall,” with its opening interlude out of Lou Reed’s “Street Hassle,” quickly shifting into a song that sounds okay on The Boxing Mirror, really good when he has the whole rock band cranked up, but last night, with just the three of them, damn near levitated the roof into the Reagan Airport flight path.
Maybe a few people can tell anecdotes that mention Johnny Thunders showing up — it’s a pretty good name to drop — and it is possible there are others who, like Alejandro, will always mention Joe Strummer at their concerts (I don’t think I’ve ever heard him forget him, which tells you just about all you need to know.) Anyone can play a Stones cover. But who other than Alejandro Escovedo would take his trio into the crowd and play “Evening Gown,” from Mick Jagger’s best solo album? Who else would even admit he listens to Mick Jagger’s solo albums?
The man is a national treasure. Thank Heaven he is healthy and well. And coming back to DC next weekend to play a show before a hundred people in the Mansion on O Street. Special as last night was, could this upcoming show top it?