Some careers start in an obvious spot then continue to grow from there. Alejandro Escovedo, on the other hand, took a few decades to find a sound that fit him just right. First, in the late ’70s, came a flirtation with punk. Next came formative forays, more heralded than heard, into what eventually became alt-country. Finally, Escovedo stumbled on an expansive approach to rock and roll that somehow seamlessly made room for all his disparate interests, from the Sex Pistols to the Stones, marked by dynamic, often string-laden arrangements, and always held together by the simplicity and poetry of a master storyteller with no dearth of material.
Just as Escovedo found a way to incorporate everything from folk to garage rock into his music, he’s similarly found ways to adapt his songs to any number of settings, from chamber outfits to solo performances. Saturday night at the Old Town School of Folk Music, for example, the first of two performances, it was just Escovedo and guitarist David Pulkingham, but between Escovedo’s songs and Pulkingham’s expressive playing, the pair had little trouble transforming what could have been a sedate night into something akin to one of Escovedo’s transcendent band shows.
Of course, it helped that Escovedo has built up such a casual, comfortable rapport with his fans, which explains how he could get away with starting the evening with an as yet unreleased track, “Sally Was a Cop,” inspired by the violence of the ongoing Mexican drug war. Escovedo followed that song with another preview of his next album, a less chilling tune called “San Antonio Rain.” After that, though, Escovedo reverted to tried and true crowd-pleasing peaks, from heartbreaking ballads such as “Broken Bottle” (performed unamplified in the middle of the crowd) to “Everybody Loves Me” and “I was Drunk,” both of which stomped and roared, right down to fiery solos from Pulkingham, despite the acoustic setting.
If the wide grin he flashed across the stage between songs was any indication, Escovedo knows he’s got a good thing going with Pulkingham at his side. At 61 and a few years past a serious health scare, Escovedo seemed more than happy to have someone as talented as Pulkingham on hand to share the heavy lifting, as rapt watching him dance across the frets as the audience was entranced by such stirring songs as the autobiographical immigrant’s tale “Wave,” the lovely “Rosalie” and the always rousing “Castanets.”