Alejandro Escovedo | 07.16.08 | Atlanta

Words by: David Higdon | Images by: Paul Puckett

Alejandro Escovedo :: 07.16.08 :: Variety Playhouse :: Atlanta, GA

Alejandro Escovedo :: 07.16.08
What a difference a few months can make. When Alejandro Escovedo last visited Atlanta in March, it was at the intimate 185 seat Eddie’s Attic, where the duo of Escovedo and talented guitarist David Pulkingham previewed songs from then unreleased Real Animal in a stripped down, acoustic setting. A mere four months later, Escovedo’s ninth studio album has been released and, without delay, it charted on Billboard. During this time, he’s also been signed to coveted Jon Landau Management and had the honor of joining sole management mate Bruce Springsteen onstage in Houston. He’s been an opening act for the Dave Mathews Band‘s summer tour, and performed on both the Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Today Show. It’s been a busy couple of months for Escovedo, and the enthusiasm for his gig was thick in the summer air as Atlanta welcomed the return of the Austin musician.

Escovedo is a rare breed where punk rock manner and songwriter precision fuse seamlessly together with glam rock charisma and folk balladeer tenderness to effectively create an indefinable category of music. Emerging out of the shadows to the campy George Jones classic “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” it was evident that the 1000 seat Variety Playhouse was a much better setting for tonight’s show, as the Escovedo/Pulkingham duo was now joined by Hector Munoz on drums and Josh Gravelin on bass. This four-piece ignited the night’s musical conflagration with “Put You Down;” a building rock song with sharp changes, which were nailed precisely. Without pause, “Always a Friend,” the first song on the new album, flowed forth with effortless cool as the loose number filled the near-capacity venue. Complete with its E Street-esque “uh, oh, oh, ohs,” the song’s reminder to “every once in a while, just let yourself go” wasn’t unnoticed by the crowd filling in the dance floor.

Always finding the common thread that ties great music of all styles together, Escovedo welcomed the Texas enchantress Carrie Rodriguez to the stage to add her stylish fiddle work to the band. With the lineup set for the rest of the night, the group delivered an incredibly textured version of “Everybody Loves Me.” The number found Escovedo and Pulkingham squaring off – Pulkingham with his elaborate finger work and Escovedo with his low slung guitar cool – while Rodriguez created an ethereal landscape that ebbed and flowed with the song’s momentum.

Alejandro Escovedo :: 07.16.08
Only a craftsman like Alejandro Escovedo can place the reminiscent fury of “Chelsea Hotel ’78” prior to the instrumental beauty of “Juarez” in a setlist, and although vastly different in scale, never lose their electric or acoustic capacity. The ballad “Rosalie” was given even greater depth when prefaced by the true accounting of a man and woman in love who only saw each other once a year for seven years but everyday wrote the other a letter. Off the new album, “People” made its debut known with its hip sway cool. When Pulkingham added his fluid slide to the song, it helped guide lyrics like “They say we’re equal, we’re not all equal/ I find that hard to believe/ I tried to love you/ I tried to love them/ I tried to love me, too/ Some are easy/ Some take work/ People you know that we do” to a place of positive understanding.

As he put down his guitar, Escovedo gripped the mic closer and announced he wanted to become animalistic like his central musical tribute on the album, Iggy Pop. Escovedo might not have quite the same flexibility to “kick like a mule, twist like a tree,” as Iggy but his band certainly can muster punk attitude. Attitude is key if you’re going to dedicate your next song to Joe Strummer, and “Castanets” closed out the set with force that found Escovedo in a full Pete Townshend windmill attack.

“Has anyone seen Rick Richards around?” Escovedo asked the crowd of the Georgia Satellite and Ju Ju Hounds guitarist as the group emerged for the encore. There was no surprise guest, but Escovedo did surprise the crowd with the funky little boat race of “All the Young Dudes” and led the crowd in its sing-along chorus. More speed jive came our way with “Velvet Guitar,” complete with Rodriguez’s bow-shredding fiddle work on the builds. Putting down his guitar for the night, Escovedo grabbed the mic as the band played the raw soul ballad “Beast of Burden.” Once again, the interplay between band and audience was nothing short of a good time. With broad smiles across everyone’s faces, it would’ve been impossible not to enjoy one’s self in such a unified atmosphere.

Escovedo graciously thanked the crowd before smoothly stepping back into the shadows while the band finished out the jam. He had accomplished what he had set out to do – bring people together from all walks of life, play a genre-bending blend of styles and make them all one through rock ‘n’ roll.

07.16.08 :: Variety Playhouse :: Atlanta, GA
Put You Down, Always a Friend, Everybody Loves Me, Sister Lost Soul, Chelsea Hotel ’78, Juarez, Rosalie, Sensitive Boys, I Was Drunk, People, Real As an Animal, Whole Lotta Love teaser, Castanets
Encore: All the Young Dudes, Velvet Guitar, Beast of Burden

Alejandro Escovedo – “Castanets” Live at NO Jazz Fest 2008

JamBase | Georgia
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