Alejandro Escovedo’s Two Shows At The Birchmere

Alejandro Escovedo and the Sensitive Boys put on two shows at the Birchmere last night.  One of them was superb.

The first show was their six-song opener, bashing their way through the punk rock from the glorious Street Songs Of Love.  Alejandro is that rare artist whose most recent two solo albums are decidedly harder rocking, maybe even progressively harder rocking, than the albums that made his reputation.  For a fellow who has charmed audiences for twenty years by touring alternately with a string trio or quartet and a real rock band that always had at least a cello, often a violin, and sometimes a cello, violin, and a pedal steel, seeing Al appear last night in a two-guitar-bass-drum foursome —  like some throwback to The Heartbreakers (the Johnny Thunders version, not Tom Petty) — took some getting used to.  It was powerful, but ragged.  The softening dimensions of strings and pedal steel were missed.  Other than a great new song, apparently written on the tour, I actually began to fear what the night would bring.

And then the acoustic guitars were brought out, and David Pulkingham was transformed into a street musician in Guadalajara, and it became magical, as it usually does with Alejandro.  I’ve heard “I Was Drunk” played by several of Alejandro’s protean outfits — the all strings flavor and the rocking flavor, with the string quartet sometimes torquing the tension in the song up to the sky — but last night, two acoustic guitars, bass and drums, it may have been best. “Last To Know (Ballad of Buick McKane)” was similarly breathtaking.

The show ended with Alejandro and his Sensitive Boyos coming back to play “Beast of Burden,” sounding maybe more like Archie Bell and The Drells than the Rolling Stones.  Alejandro announced that next year he’d be back to celebrate his 60th birthday with the full army, the fiddle players and all the rest.  Great.  Because the hard-rocking foursome does not fulfill his potential; the strings add a needed dimension for his songs, and his singing, to work.  I love the fact that Alejandro, at age 59, is playing out a Lou-Mott-Thunders role with a killer four piece band.  I love Street Songs of Love — it may be my favorite Alejandro album of all time.  But I can’t wait to see him with the full blessed orchestra.

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