Thursday, August 25, 2005

Alejandro Escovedo live at the Casbah in San Diego

I’ve been waiting a good 2 years to see Alejandro, and with Deb turning me on to Jon Dee Graham, the anticipation was almost unbearable. But we made it through the evening, and oh what an evening it was…

If you haven’t been to the Casbah, it’s pretty much like all of the other small clubs; fairly clean, minimal number of seats and a small stage. The sound was actually pretty good, except for a buzz that never really went away (or was that me?). The bathrooms… They should make the owners of these clubs use their own bathrooms. Whatever.

Up first was a surprise guest, Mario Escovedo; Alejandro’s younger brother. Actually he’s the baby (13th of 13). Dumping the band concept, he has been doing the singer/songwriter thing pretty much since their father died last year. The problem is that even though you can hear Alejandro’s voice in his voice, Mario does not have the power or range. He was determined though to not let that stop him. Some of the songs were well written and well song, but others caused him to go outside his limits and I don’t really think he succeeded. He did both new and old songs. It was the older ones that had the most trouble being translated to this new format. One of the more interesting aspects of the show was the little brother’s willingness to talk about his older brother (called “Coach” by those who know him). His stories about hanging in Austin with Coach led Jon to later throw his two cents in, saying: “That’s one of his meanest tricks. Five minutes before the show he’ll look at you and say, ‘You’re going to wear THAT?’”.

After Mario’s show, this older guy steps up on the stage in a cheap suit that really needed to be ironed. Oh my… that’s Jon Dee Graham, isn’t it. With just an acoustic guitar and gravelly powerful voice, Jon held most of us in the audience in awe for the 30 or 40 minutes he was on stage. His great melodies, stellar guitar playing and self deprecating sense of humor (“I feel really stupid playing solos when there are no other instruments playing”) were intoxicating. At the end of the show he begged us, really, he begged us to buy his CDs. “If you buy 2 CDs I can have breakfast tomorrow. If you buy 15 CDs I’ll be able to renew my prescription, which makes me a lot easier to get along with on the bus”. This need for money may have to do with his falling out with his current record label. He was so upset with them, he put together a CD of 8 songs (3 new, 5 live songs from the last 3 CDs) and is pushing that at the shows partially to spite them. So, if you don’t have “First Bear On The Moon”, it should be available at Amazon. Maybe the highlight of the show came a few songs in, when, unable to deal with two idiots at the bar (friends of Mario’s it turned out), he walked to the side of the stage and said, “Hey! Hey! Guys, if you need to keep talking, you can take your drinks outside”. That earned him a big applause from the crowd, because you could hear these two talking all the way across the room.

At about 11pm, Alejandro and band took the stage. Maybe the right word is “covered” the stage. The 7 piece band (Alejandro on guitars, Jon on lead guitar and slide, bass, drums, keyboards, cello and violin) barely fit. I kept waiting for Susan, the violinist to poke the bass player in the eye. And the sound! I really wasn’t expecting it to be that powerful, but when all 7 of them start rocking, the place exploded with energy. If this had been a full house (only about 100 or so showed up making the club about half full) I swear there won’t have been enough fans to cool us down from the energy generated. When you add together his unique songs, great jams (man can Jon play slide guitar!) and amazing arrangements you end up with a one of my club highlights of the year. I never saw him before he got sick, so I can’t compare it. But I can’t believe he was any more powerful than last night. There were plenty of highlights; including a potent version of “With These Hands” and 2 new songs (the producer of the next CD is going to be none other than John Cale). I love the new songs; classic Alejandro stuff. They played about 1 hours and 50 minutes, closing with some covers including “All the Young Dudes” (Ian Hunter and Alejandro have a mutual admiration society going) and I believe a Neil Young song. This was well worth getting home at 2am and being up at 7am to go to work.

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