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The Ballad of Alejandro Escovedo

Austin icon pulls off a marathon performance at the Moody
Raoul Hernandez, 6:07pm, Mon. Jan. 14, 2013
photo by Todd V. Wolfson
Alejandro Escovedo at the Moody Theater, 1.12.13
Apparently, sharing management with Bruce Springsteen has rubbed off on Alejandro Escovedo. The poetic, corazón-on-his-suit-sleeve Austin rocker staged a four-hour concert at the Moody Theater Saturday night. Survivors are reportedly in stellar condition.

Toward the end of the third and final set, when even the kitchen sink had been beat like a steel drum – Amy Cook guest torching “I Died a Little Today” from 2006’s forgotten The Boxing Mirror – one veteran local Escovedo worshiper (me), muttered to himself, “They forgot the Nuns.” Sure enough, the very next song, “Chelsea Hotel ’78,” and its introduction by the author paid tribute to Escovedo’s San Francisco punk band, which holds the distinction of opening the original Sex Pistols’ final U.S. performance.

All evening, a century’s worth of images flashed on the stage’s video screen backdrop, from pictures of Escovedo’s parents matching songs about the same – “Rosalie” and a Rosie Flores-assisted “The Ballad of the Sun & Moon” – to a precious cache of Nuns’ photos. If a dozen musicians backing the bandleader wasn’t enough to take in, not to mention all 14 or so members of the Sensitive Youth Choir, a never-ending slide show of Escovedo’s 35-year rock & roll career played out as an epic screen gem accompanying its 30-song soundtrack.

Escovedo’s self-described “bummer” of a first set wasn’t. Rather, it assuaged the once familiar broken heart of his first two LPs, 1992’s Gravity and its equally heavy follow-up Thirteen Years, by opening with longtime spines of his early solo sets, “Paradise,” “Five Hearts Breaking,” and “One More Time.” The default, big screen iPhoto on the media matte behind him said it all: two boots standing over a piece of cardboard with the word “blue” written on it. Even the rocking third set, kicking off on “Castanets,” “Put You Down,” and distinguished by the band donning red and black stage wear, took on Escovedo’s deep blue emotions.

In-between, the star-studded second set lit its burner on Jon Dee Graham growling “Helpless,” while his True Believers bandmate announced that Austin’s so-called “New Sincerity” blitzkrieg was reuniting for March’s South by Southwest. Graham’s guitar solo on the succeeding “The Rain Won’t Help You When It’s Over” went into a mouth-watering ragga that morphed for a verse into Escovedo singing Bob Marley’s “Lively Up Yourself.”

Rosie Flores and her powder blue Telecaster generated palpable sparks on “Velvet Guitar,” while Terry Allen – at the Cactus Cafe this Friday – almost stole the show at the black grand piano with Escovedo’s “I Was Drunk” and “Broken Bottle.” Back-up singer Karla Manzur took on Boxing Mirror producer John Cale’s “Amsterdam,” Patricia Vonne danced a stilling “She Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” and Amy Cook possessed a second Escovedo tune in set sealer “Notes on Air.”

At the last, the two-days-removed birthday boy, 62, recalled proto alt-country rockers Rank & File on a raucous “Chip & Tony,” and Elias Haslanger’s siren sax solo on “Chelsea Hotel” highlighted the contributions of the entire big band. Susan Voelz’ fiery fiddle, Stephen Barber’s piano caress, Ephraim Owens’ hawkish trumpet, Chris Searles pounding a Herculean beat to Bobby Daniel’s bass thump, and Charlie Sexton holding it all together brought the house down.

David Bowie cover “Boys Keep Swinging” bewildered an admittedly weary audience, but sole encore “Always a Friend,” which Escovedo first teamed up with Springsteen at a 2008 Boss show in Houston and then again at last year’s Austin Music Awards, needed no introduction.

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