Alejandro Escovedo has always been one of the hardest working men in the business, but lately he’s set the bar high even for his own lofty standards. About midway through Monday night’s set at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, Escovedo sheepishly admitted that the band was still going strong at this late weeknight hour, despite the fact that they had been up and at it for nearly 24 hours.
On a whirlwind publicity tour behind his new album, Big Station, Alejandro and the Sensitive Boys wrapped up a late Sunday set at NYC’s Barbecue Festival, caught a few hours of sleep and then trucked uptown in the middle of the night to prepare for Monday morning’s appearance on the Don Imus show. Following this Maxwell’s performance, the band would again cross the Hudson to tape a song or two for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon before embarking on the remaining week of their U.S. tour before heading overseas for a string of UK dates next week. Pretty impressive for a 60-year old, who for years has graciously served as a mentoring figure to up and coming alt-country and singer-songwriters, many of whom only scratch the surface of Escovedo’s touring and recording prowess.
With his schedule arranged as it was it would be understandable to simply phone in a performance like the one Monday night. At a smaller club on the outskirts of the big city, lesser artists may have scaled back a bit and saved their remaining energy for bigger stages. However, Alejandro Escovedo is definitely not one of those lesser artist types and proved his already avuncular legend by powering through a richly spirited set peppered with catchy new tunes, heartfelt gems from his back catalog, and strikingly appropriate cover choices that entertained, captivated, and flat out wowed his adoring fans. Songs from the new album, such as the noir-ish show opener, “Sally Was A Cop”, the shifty “Can’t Make Me Run”, and the elegant “San Antonio Rain” have already found entrenchment in the canon of Escovedo classics that should be played at all of his shows. The new material was also buoyed by the inclusion of two female background singers who replicated the “oohs” and “aahs” that give much of Big Station its smoky barroom feel.
After several mid-tempo numbers, Escovedo announced that it was indeed time to party. He set aside his guitar, picked up the mike, and proceeded to rev his band through an honest and arresting cover of The Stooges’ dirty blues anthem “I Wanna Be Your Dog”. With his vocals distorted and the whirl of noise carrying the song on around him, Escovedo crouched low, hunched over the audience and snarled the lyrics for maximum rock and roll effect: “So messed up/I want you near”. The moment resonated well as a perfect “kick in the pants” to the sedate Monday night crowd and illustrated the magnetism Escovedo exudes as a performer. As always, he can be a musical chameleon, needing only a few minutes to transform himself and his band from a beautifully mannered orchestral unit into full-fledged rock and roll assassins.
For the encore, Escovedo and the Sensitive Boys were joined onstage by punk troubadour and NYC legend, Jesse Malin. Acknowledging their shared friendship with Ryan Adams, the two pleasantly surprised the audience by choosing to open with <i>Stranger’s Almanac</i> standout, “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight” with Malin and Escovedo trading verses and harmonizing on the chorus. From there, the crew brought down the house with a searing, note-perfect rendition of “Beast of Burden”. With the show at its high point, Malin perhaps unwisely overstayed his welcome as he and Escovedo awkwardly fumbled around yet another cover, this time The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah”. All was soon rectified though as Malin exited the stage and the band closed the night with the Spanish spoken “Sabor y Mi”, a beautiful lullaby that also wonderfully concludes <i>Big Station</i>.
With that, Alejandro Escovedo had successfully conquered New Jersey and sent folks happily home with an amazing start to their week ahead.
“Sally Was A Cop”
“Man of the World”
“This Bed is Getting Crowded”
“Can’t Make Me Run”
“Bottom of the World”
“San Antonio Rain”
“I Wanna Be Your Dog”
“Chelsea Hotel ‘78”
“Excuse Me While I Break My Heart”
“Beast of Burden”
“Rock the Casbah”
“Sabor y Mi”