Words & Images by: David Higdon
Alejandro Escovedo :: 03.06.08 :: Eddie's Attic :: Decatur, GA
Eddie's Attic is the type of venue that is quickly becoming a rarity nowadays - an intimate, neighborhood space dedicated entirely to the art of listening. Eddie's proved to be the perfect locale for the Austin-based Alejandro Escovedo, who is a rarity in his own right. An immensely talented singer-songwriter whose non-categorical blending of musical styles reflects his lifetime of experiences, all shared with his heart on his sleeve. On this sold-out Thursday night, Escovedo painted an earnest musical portrait of hope that bled through the performer's canvas and into the collective hearts of all in attendance.
After keeping a regular Tuesday night residency at Austin's Continental Club, Escovedo and guitarist extraordinaire David Pulkingham ventured outside of the Lone Star State to treat fans to a preview of songs off Escovedo's upcoming Back Porch Records release, Real Animal (due June 10). From the duel acoustic strumming of opener "Dear Head on the Wall" it was clear that rock 'n' roll had not been left in Texas with the rest of the band. It was a richly textured song that found Escovedo playing licks that would have seemed familiar on a Gibson SG before slipping into the gentle build of "Everybody Loves Me." With Pulkingham's melodious picking building the intensity before Escovedo plunged into such lines as "I love the way you kiss, but I just can't stand the pain," the pair inserted fierce breakdowns and sudden changes that mirrored the extremes found in the relationship at the song's core.
A popped string provided Escovedo with the opportunity to elaborate on the origins and his approach to Real Animal all the while switching out the meddlesome string in record time. The Tony Visconti (T. Rex, David Bowie, Thin Lizzy) produced album was co-written with Chuck Prophet, and it spans the musical timeline of Escovedo's career.
Back in action, the duo launched into the first new song of the night, "Always a Friend;" a rhythmic, percussive tune whose chorus encourages the individual stalled by an uncertainty to "every once in a while, just let yourself go." Escovedo explained before "Sister Lost Soul," the second debut of the evening, that he and Prophet had wanted to write a song dedicated to their friend and troubled Gun Club musician, Jeffrey Lee Pierce (1958-1996). A contemplative selection that found Pulkingham bending notes that just about warped the floor of the 185 seat Attic, the song was punctuated by lines like "I just want to lay down beside you/ Feel your breath in my ear/ You're not the first, nor the last I've lied to/ But, I'm lying to myself right now/ That you're still here." The rapturous applause that followed helped welcome another new number, "Swallows of San Juan."
Pulkingham & Escovedo :: 03.06
The intimacies of the surroundings were further heightened when the musicians stepped from the stage and into the center of the room. The fully attentive crowd welcomed the musical trip to a warm border town provided by Pulkingham's guitar as the beautiful notes from the instrumental "Juarez" unfolded. Escovedo's impassioned vocals completed an immaculate transition into "Rosalie," during which his voice provided an organic honesty to the house that would've been lost through a mic.
A shift in location to the back left corner offered the night's lone cover, a hauntingly pure rendition of the Ian Hunter-penned "I Wish I Was Your Mother." Changing the front row perspective to the back right corner, Escovedo displayed his humorous side as he recounted a benefit held many years ago at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, GA to raise enough money to get the band back home to Austin.
A return to the stage did not signify the end of this musical journey. Standing once more before the mic, Escovedo turned to Pulkingham and asked, "Should we rock it?" Their punk leanings pushed to the surface, the guitars were once again plugged in and ready to preview "Chelsea Hotel." With rock stances firmly planted, furious guitars playing and the confession that "We came to live inside the myth of everything we'd heard," Escovedo recounted his previous residence at the famed NYC hotel while the Sid and Nancy debacle occurred.
By using the various corners of the room as an extended stage, Escovedo had unconsciously provided an illustration to Real Animal's theme. With various musical styles represented, each corner reflected a different genre that he'd absorbed into his music.
The rock influence continued through a particularly incremental "Baby's Got New Plans" until the twosome were eventually facing each other; Escovedo provided the forceful down strokes to Pulkingham's intricate picking. The tender beginnings of "Five Hearts Breaking" surfaced soon after this rocker, and while some might have questioned its placement it proved faultless as a song of hope in a time of darkness.
Alejandro Escovedo :: 03.06.08
More humor arrived as Escovedo recounted, to his utter dismay, the day he found out "Castanets" had made its way onto President Bush's iPod. His initial reluctance to ever play the song again passed once he found out that it was, in fact, not his version of the song and therefore it was alright to plunge headfirst into this recounting of a girl with no rhythm.
The encore featured the instrumentally bare "I Was Drunk" to an audience already intoxicated by Escovedo's dignified voice before introducing a small wall of guitars. As "Drunk" unfolded, the six-strings discovered the rock 'n' roll emotion hiding between lyrics of desperation. "Wave" entered the set next, and brought both performers to the mic during the harmonious chorus. It was announced that the night's closing song would also close out the new album. "Slow Down" tells the story of the futility of trying to recreate a memory for someone special to you today.
Graciously accepting the thunderous applause, the pair exited from the stage, and it was clear that a new height of musical intimacy had been reached between musician and audience. The opportunity to hear an unadorned delivery of new material from Escovedo had been a gift, but to share in the communal energy of all in attendance was a treasure.
03.06.08 :: Eddie's Attic :: Decatur, GA
Dear Head on the Wall, Everybody Loves Me, Always a Friend, Sister Lost Soul, Swallows of San Juan, Juarez, Rosalie, I Wish I Was Your Mother, Sensitive Boys, Chelsea Hotel, Baby's Got New Plans, Five Hearts Breaking, Castanets
Encore: I Was Drunk, Wave, Slow Down
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