Courtesy of Carl Hutzler.
Archive for November, 2008
Ain’t nothin’ but a house party that Alejandro put on at the O Street Mansion in D.C. last night. By the time he got to “Pissed Off 2AM,” his voice was a little ragged, and so it should be, when you’ve played your heart out for a stadium arena — actually, for an intimate gathering of 100 lucky fans. Because they were filming for a yet-to-be-announced project, it seemed like Alejandro, Susan Voelz, and David Pulkingham ramped up their set with even greater tension, simultaneously more precise and wilder in their abandon. If the highlights from last Sunday’s show at the Birchmere were “Everybody Loves Me” and “Deerhead On The Wall,” last night the highlights were “I Was Drunk” and “Chelsea Hotel.” Not to mention “All The Young Dudes,” sung while standing about four inches from the crowd. This portion of Alejandro’s version of the Never Ending Tour having concluded, we look forward to his return with the whole rocking ensemble. And since he deserves to play in stadiums, if that’s where he wants his next house party to be, we’ll show up there, too.
(If possible, will post some of Carl Hutzler’s superb photos later. If not, go here to see them:http://carlhutzler.com/blog/
Cap-it-al Radio: Joey Burns and John Convertino set up the pirate transmitter not one mile from the White House last night, and beamed their cross-border cultural mashup to a 1000 anxious fans. The brilliant Carried To Dust, which ranks high on Tulip Frenzy’s office playlist, was explored almost in its entirety, though they dipped into their saddlebags to pull out treasures from Feast of Wire and the whole arid ouevre. These guys are brilliant musicians, and Burns is a really good singer — his voice runs patterns inside the wide-out routes covered by Gary Louris. The highlight, of course, was the way their Fear-And-Whisky-era-Mekons-meets-Herb Alpert sensibility added a mild salsa spice to an otherwise alt.country bowl of chili.
When you think that these guys were carved more than a decade ago from a stray mound of Giant Sand, and that in those days, they hadn’t even added the Sergio Leone horns, it’s a wonder. The mathematical precision of the two trumpets playing in unison conjures visions of a sunburned Johann Sebastian Bach, stumbling through the salt flats with a mescal buzz, conducting the horn section with his sunglasses askew. I’ve never before witnessed a whistled solo, but these guys did it, and you could hear the horse being slapped on its rump while Zapata rode til dawn. Andale!
Joey Burns alternated between a white Palomino of an electric guitar and his acoustic built to scale for a Mexican teenager, and John Convertino put on a seminar on how to use brushes and the snare with little regard for the tom toms. “Two Silver Trees” was a little flatter than on the album, but “Writers Minor Holiday” was like the soundtrack to a Roberto Bolano novel. You could see why so many musicians have hired them to be their studio band, could understand why half of the I’m Not There tracks were recorded with these guys underneath. And yet when it came time for Calexico to take a star turn, to stand astride their rising career like a bandito on the final quarter mile ride to the saloon, they were plenty comfortable in the moonlight.
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?