Alejandro Escovedo Off Broadway May 15, 2012
Storytelling is a craft that is formulated through years of experience and must be as finely tuned as a guitar. Spirited rock & roll is the backdrop to Alejandro Escovedo's heartfelt and sincere storytelling. Last night in St. Louis, he bared his soul, shared gritty details of writing and recording, and thanked his fans -- all while wearing a warm smile and strumming his guitar.
St. Louis guitar legend Jimmy Griffin pulled double duty as the opener and then as one of the stellar cast of St. Louis musicians acting as Escovedo's backing band.
Despite the crowd at Off Broadway both onstage and on the floor, Escovedo created an intimate atmosphere, one conducive to his prolific style of performance and telling of tales. Many musicians feel obligated to talk between songs and fill every quiet space with unnecessary banter or awkward retellings of nonsensical stories, but Escovedo's quips invited you in to his 30-plus years as a musician. Exuberance, in both the crowd and the band, was plentiful and intensified with each iteration of Alejandro Escovedo -- starting with a four-song "set" of acoustic tunes, roaring in to the full band version of songs (including new ones from the upcoming album Big Station) and ultimately ending after three encores.
Cutting through a haze of cheap cigarette smoke from outside and Bud Light-induced humidity, Alejandro Escovedo took to the stage accompanied by violinist Elizabeth Ramos and opened with a beautiful rendition of "Rosalie." The remainder of the acoustic set, however, seemed to be lost on the crowd. Between songs, Escovedo told stories of blurry, drunken nights and dedicated a tune to Mother's Day that seemed to get more response than the actual songs themselves. It wasn't until the end of the acoustic set, a cover of Ian Hunter's "I Wish I Was Your Mother" that the crowd got riled up. As the audience stood in stark silence and adoration, Kelly Wild (of St. Louis' Trixie Delight) and Escovedo created an ethereal soundscape that included dramatic pauses, lush harmonies and swirling violin lines from Ramos.
The full band tore in to the new song "Sally Was a Cop." The story of Sally and her community crippled by Mexico's drug trade is told to a pounding rhythm and chants, lending it to crowd participation. Arms were outstretched to the stage, Escovedo waved back and asked for more of the audience -- a type of rally cry, and the crowd forged on. As the show progressed, musicians onstage took the energy given from the crowd and played it back tenfold. The horn section, consisting of saxophonist Ben Reece and trumpet player Adam Hucke, earned its keep by adding intensity to every song, particularly in "Can't Make Me Run," when every other musician onstage stopped to face them, mouths agape and clapping furiously. Jimmy Griffin continued to exhibit his strong guitar skills and utter showmanship during "Chelsea Hotel," a song that gave each instrumentalist a moment in solo glory.
An air of tension hung over the crowd after the final song, "Always a Friend" -- people hung around in hopes of an encore that would support the amazing first act. Escovedo and Co. brought out the big guns in their first encore and performed David Bowie's "All the Young Dudes." Arms swayed, beer was spilled and lyrics were unintelligibly hollered during the band's second encore -- an equally sensuous cover of the Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden." Kelly Wild got her chance to show off her vocal prowess while exchanging lyrics with Escovedo. In fitting fashion for a storyteller, Escovedo closed the night with "Down in the Bowery" -- a deeply emotional song of encouragement for his son.
Personal Bias: I was blown away by the magnitude of the instrumentalists; while the rhythm section wasn't really adventurous (and, really, they didn't need to be) the keyboard player, the horn section and Jimmy Griffin were outstanding and surprised me in the best way possible. The show far exceeded my expectations.
Random Detail: I'm pretty sure the dude next to me was a statue. He stood frozen in time with a PBR in his hands and a goofy smile plastered on his face.
Overheard: "No, I mean it smells like the actual airport in here..."
Setlist: Rosalie I Was Drunk Sensitive Boys I Wish I Was Your Mother (Ian Harper) Sally Was A Cop This Bed is Getting Crowded Anchor Tender Heart Bottom of the World San Antonio Rain Can't Make Me Run Chelsea Hotel Always A Friend Encore All The Young Dudes (David Bowie) Encore Beast of Burden (Rolling Stones) Encore ?? Down in the Bowery