Alejandro Escovedo is a man who needs no introduction, yet strangely, he does. For more than four decades the multi-faceted singer-songwriter has been notching up the kind of credibility of a rock and roll legend, playing in punk bands and then having a prolific solo career. Somehow Escovedo has always flown a bit under the radar despite writing songs on the level of universally loved troubadours like Bruce Springsteen. He is an artist’s artist, and those in the know revere him, as was evidenced by the long sold out show in at Mississippi Studios in Portland, Oregon on June 20th.
Serving as a proper warm-up for Escovedo was Portland’s own Casey Neill. With vocals that resembled a folkier Michael Stipe, Neill and his band wooed the audience with songs off his latest LP Subterrene, which was released earlier this year. Songs like “My Beloved Accomplice”, “Savages”, and “In The Swim” would straddle folk, power pop, and indie rock with Neill holding a commanding and entrancing presence onstage.
If there was a central thread to Alejandro Escovedo’s set it was a sense of longing for an America that is disappearing. This is also a major theme on his latest album The Crossing, and he played many of its songs. “Texas Is My Mother” was a powerful meditation, “Something Blue” was awash in psychedelic guitar and a huge solo courtesy of Eric Heywood, and “Waiting For You” was introduced with a long story about two immigrant boys losing their innocence in an America that was not as welcoming as expected. This song also served as a proper build-up to the thunderous, punk-infused rocker “Outlaw For You”. “Teenage Luggage” would up the ante more with distorted vocals and wonky guitar playing. This would all come full circle with “Sonica USA”, a swaggering rock tune that found Escovedo singing nostalgically about great moments in American music history.
He would also play some of his best-known songs, injecting “Castanets” with raw punk intensity and dedicating an especially moving “Sensitive Boys” – with rich sonic textures from Heywood’s wavy pedal steel playing – to Portland residents Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck of the Minus 5 and R.E.M. During this song Escovedo also announced that he would be teaming up with them to make a new record before the end of the year, stirring up even more excitement from the fans. Before going into a sweeping, dramatic “Arizona”, the 68-year old singer also announced he was going to step away from touring to take a well-deserved break after forty-five years on the road. Now in full confessional mode, he would introduce “Bottom of the World” with the story of choosing to leave his longtime home of Austin, Texas due to rising rent, gentrification, and loss of soul. The emotions would continue to run high, with Escovedo lending a beautiful acoustic guitar and gorgeous full band harmonies to “Sister Lost Soul”, and closing out the evening with a charged up “Sally Was a Cop” that exploded with a the beat of a drum machine and a raucous pedal steel solo.
Over the course of nearly two hours, Escovedo and his mega-talented band took fans on a journey through the history of rock and roll and punk rock with the singer acting as bard. Throughout the performance Escovedo seemed nostalgic, openly longing for a time when cities weren’t becoming homogenous, gentrified wastelands, and punk and rock and roll were raw and in the moment. It’s a different world now, and probably not as exciting, but luckily Alejandro Escovedo is still there to remind us of the way things used to be.
Photo credit: Nancy Rankin Escovedo