Veteran rocker and longtime critical favorite Alejandro Escovedo walked an adoring crowd through the steps of his long and varied career on Thursday. The show invoked his history as a pioneering punk act and alt-country innovator in the '70s and '80s. But the performance drew mostly from solo recordings of a more recent vintage, particularly his new album, the roots-minded "Real Animal." The six-piece rock band eased into a stirring cello and violin instrumental to begin the show before transitioning into the foreboding bass funk and joyful chorus of "Put You Down." Every bit the showman, Escovedo chanced a few windmill swipes at his guitar during an extended outro climax. The lengthy instrumental passage, driven by some seriously rocking cello, laid out the band's blueprint early on. (That's right, rocking cello).
One might have expected the combined effect of the busy instrumentation and four vocalists to amount to sonic clutter, but each piece resounded clearly. Susan Voelz's violin was particularly strident, doing much of the melodic heavy lifting and coloring in around the edges. The band's harmonies coalesced throughout, but nowhere so well as on the rousing, Springsteen-style rock of "Always a Friend" and the aching "Sister Lost Soul." The latter was a road-weary slice of jangly Southwestern Americana, a winding, dusty trail of a song, almost exuberant in its heartbreak.
Further along the band stirred up a swirling maelstrom of harmonic strings, but it also proved capable of quieter, more introspective moments as on the acoustic, border song romance of "Rosalie."
More exciting was the country punk of "Chelsea Hotel '78" and "Real as an Animal." "Get animalistic," Escovedo instructed the audience as he stalked the stage and jerked the mike stand, "but not with each other."
The final song, "Castanets," he explained, had the misfortune of somehow ending up on President Bush's iPod, according to a story in The
If that anecdote wasn't enough to have the medium-size crowd eating out of Escovedo's hand, a double encore of covers of "All the Young Dudes" and "Beast of Burden" certainly did the trick.
Boston's Tulsa, led by Carter Tanton, won a lot of new fans with a country-leaning opening set. The three-piece relied on chiming cascades of guitar and Tanton's plangent vocals and harmonica to erect walls of reverberating melancholy.