Alejandro Escovedo has a remarkable past; just to listen to him talk about it, which he did at length in his St Bonaventures appearance, is fascinating. He is a very good storyteller, plainspoken and direct, with humility and quiet humour — much like his songs.
Alejandro came from a musical Mexican-American family, one of 13 siblings, 8 of whom are professional musicians, two, leaders of well known salsa bands in California. But Alejandro got his start in what is often credited as the West Coast’s first punk band, The Nuns, who opened the Sex Pistols final show in San Francisco. He cheerfully admits The Nuns were terrible (and this writer can so attest) but he quickly moved to the much better Dils, which then transformed into Rank and File, surely the first punk country-western band. One might be able to discern a progression toward songwriting in these moves; it certainly was for Alejandro, who ended up moving to Austin, Texas, after brief interlude at the Chelsea Hotel in NYC.
It was in Austin, a songwriters’ Mecca, that his songwriter persona came slowly of age, so much so that by the turn of the century when he was felled by hepatitus C, nearly forty of his friends and relatives recorded a double album to raise funds for his care. These included Sheila E (Escovedo), John Cale, Howe Gelb, Calexico, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Ian Hunter, the Jayhawks, all singing Alejandro’s songs. It was a magic moment in music history.
Alejandro, relaxed and unassuming on the low St Bon’s stage, was accompanied by David Pulkingham, an astonishingly adept acoustic guitarist and harmony singer, also from Texas. But the songs were the stars. Alejandro is a well rounded songwriter: in some, the words carry the weight; in others, the melody, yet others the rhythm and energy. Several songs, notably This Ain’t Love, were punk songs rendered acoustically, uptempo with rapid downstroke strumming. You don’t hear this everyday!
Rosalie was melodramatic and melodic, a bit like mariachi, others touching, like Always A Friend (and there was a story about that, too). Bottom of the World, an encore song, was unusually Dylanesque in lyric and rhythm. This versatility in writing makes it difficult to put an easy caption under Alejandro Escovedo, but it is to his credit; his songs are his life’s chronicle and it has certainly been a varied life.
He and David spent quite a bit of the show playing offstage amongst the audience, and then on stage without using the PA. This, like everything else he did, did not come across as a trick or false gesture — and it worked just fine.
All in all, a genuine performance by a genuine man and fine songwriter.
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