Boston, what the hell is wrong with you? Why don’t you recognize the talent and glory that is Alejandro Escovedo?
I moved to Boston from Chicago two years ago. One thing Chicago has over Boston is that the city appreciates Escovedo. As I looked over the far-from-capacity crowd at the Middle East last night, I contemplated what has fostered Chicago’s love for him that Boston lacks. There are venues such as the Hideout and FitzGerald’s that cultivate an audience for Americana. There’s the trickle-down effect of the Taste of Chicago in the culture of free outdoor concerts throughout the summer, manifesting itself is such events and Escovedo opening for Patti Smith at a free show by Tribune Tower a few years back, which encourages residents to explore music they wouldn’t necessarily pay to see. He can get airplay on WXRT, an adult album alternative radio station with DJs who care about music rather than air personalities hired only to fill the space between songs that have been market-tested for their target demographic.
But these are excuses, rather than reasons. The guy keeps releasing great albums, coming to town and putting on great shows, and yet most of Boston ignores him. The fools.
While his previous visit to town was an intimate, acoustic evening, accompanied by David Pulkingham, now he was back with a full band, dubbed the Sensitive Boys. It was only twice as many musicians, but the additions of bass, drums and electricity made the volume grow exponentially. They blasted into “Always a Friend” to open the set and tore through a handful of songs, mostly from Escovedo’s latest album, Street Songs of Love and 2008’s Real Animal. Despite being a working musician for decades, he has never had a hit single, the advantage being that he is not beholden to his past. He barely dipped into his back catalog except for a “Castanets” sing-along.
But it wasn’t all brashness. The middle of the set took a more subdued tone, highlighted by “Down in the Bowery,” his homage to his teenage punk rocker son. As he sang, “I’d buy you a smile in a minute, but would you wear it? If I had one moment of time, would you come down and share it?” I thought of my own young boys, carefree and cuddly, and choked up at that thought of the days ahead when I’ll ask such questions.
Ian Hunter provided vocals on the album but didn’t come along for the tour, which partially explains the decision to cover Hunter’s biggest hit, Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes.” These days, all the young dudes carry the news on their smart phones. Fortunately Alejandro Escovedo is the rare old dude who can still rock without just riding on past glories.