Alejandro Escovedo stood at the microphone, whispering to himself and cajoling his guitar to get in tune. There was no crew to set everything up. And though it seemed he couldn’t get it just right, he never got angry; he’s too low-key for that.
Finally things were ready. He stood there in his trademark Southwestern suit, his perseverance paying off, and formally invited his band to join him. It was a business-like lead up to what would prove to be a yeoman performance.
The smoky North Star Bar was the scene of this magical transformation, and it was a joy to behold. Escovedo opened with “Sometimes,” a beautiful ballad about breaking up, which was enhanced by the sonic keyboards of Bruce Salmon and the unorthodox, yet wonderfully creative drumming of Hector Munoz.
As the show progressed, Escovedo’s voice grew stronger and his guitar playing more aggressive. He was definitely enjoying himself now. “Castanets,” another track from his 2001 release A Man Under The Influence, was a more upbeat number, with Brian Standefer trading in his cello for a bass guitar.
One thing that did detract from the show, but by no means ruined it, was the overuse of the cello. Most of Escovedo’s songs are sad, lonesome alternative country tracks. His lyrics are about drugs, drinks, cars and bars, and a B3 or slide guitar would have enhanced them.
The cello was a nice touch at first. It was a different approach. But there was just something about Standefer and the cello that didn’t work. Not all night, anyway. It could have been his refined Enrique Inglesias look that contributed to the strange formality of it all, but a Bobby Baxter or Mike Brenner on the lap steel would have been a more preferable sight and sound.
Still, it was an evening full of wonderful music, as Escovedo and his band deftly changed tempos between deliberate ballads and scorching up-tempo rockers.
While it was an excellent showcase of Escovedo’s songwriting capabilities, the two highlight performances were both covers. Mott the Hoople’s “I Wish I Was Your Mother” was melodic and poignant, while his version of Iggy Pop’s “I Wanna Be Your Dog” was an all out guitar assault that thrilled (and probably surprised) the crowd.
In the end, the low-key, soft-spoken guy in the simple Southwestern suit had just kicked ass.