AE-CWCHI-Jan272017TribReview

Bob Gendron/Chicago Tribune/January 27, 2017 – Alejandro Escovedo and an ace backing group performed at a professional space Thursday at City Winery, but they sure didn’t act like it. Their go-for-broke spirit and amps-cranked-to-10 buzz suggested the sound of a hungry, young band woodshedding in their parents’ basement. Never mind the members’ salt-and-pepper hair or weathered looks.

Over the course of 80 minutes, the grizzled veterans were teenagers back in a garage playing raw rock ‘n’ roll with friends and having a helluva time doing it.

For Escovedo, the show — the first of a three-night stand at the venue — seemed more than just another chance to kick out the jams. He beamed with the joyousness of someone given a new lease on life who wants to tell everyone about it. Now 66, the Texas native fits the profile.

A well-respected singer-songwriter whose career stretches back four decades, Escovedo recently rebounded from a long illness from hepatitis C as well as post-traumatic stress disorder triggered by barely surviving a Category 4 hurricane. Forced to take a hiatus during which he doubted his ability to continue, he ultimately channeled the experiences into a potent album, “Burn Something Beautiful,” recorded with many of the musicians that joined him onstage.

The quartet, which included ex-R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and former Fastbacks guitarist Kurt Bloch, received a surprise boost at the concert in the form of Kelly Hogan. Her standout supporting vocals brought girl-group harmonies and country-soul spunk to tunes hopped up on distortion, crunch and hooks. Hogan’s versatility and enthusiasm only added to a rambunctious commotion at odds with the room’s seated-table atmosphere.

Not that formality stood in the collective’s way. Songs got counted off “one, two, three, four.” Windmill guitar chords begat increased tempos that ended in tangled knots. Escovedo encouraged his mates by yelling out, “Come on,” or pressing up against them in the midst of a solo. Tracing back to Escovedo’s punk roots, the approaches imparted the desperate tones, perseverant emotions and feisty swagger inherent to the music.

Noisy squalls evoked shattering glass, snapping tree limbs and whipping winds on “Luna De Miel.” Buck’s trademark jangle lit up a persistent “Farewell to the Good Times.” A bopping groove belied the streetwise toughness of “Heartbeat Smile.” Droning waves settled over “Johnny Volume,” whose trudging pace matched the exhaustive struggle of the narrative. Yet will and redemption prevailed in the face of personal turbulence.

“I’m feeling so much better,” Escovedo sang, “it’s time to make amends.” Consider them done.