Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that we’re either already in or entering into an era of seasoned musicians. Of comebacks and never-went-aways. And I’m not just talking about the Rolling Stones and Dylan, but about Springsteen, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Van Dyke Parks, Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples and Dr. John. It’s an era when the previous generation is returning to the stage not just in revues and revivals but with arsenals of new work; new albums that sound fresh and relevant and hit as heavily as the bands out there populated by their kids and grandkids.
Alejandro Escovedo could be leading that parade. Before taking the stage at The Grey Eagle, strolls through the crowd in his skinny black jeans and shiny, pointy boots, all cool angles and “hey, what’s up” nods. On stage he’s rail thin with not even a hint of grey to his hair. He’s a complex mix of shadows and shine, launching into the punch of “Sally Was A Cop” from his new album, Big Station, which releases today. The song is a beating heart; Escovedo’s vocal a burning needle searing the dark and airless atmosphere.
Escovedo is 62 and his band (called The Sensitive Boys: Billy White on guitar, Bobby Daniel on bass and Chris Searles) is not exactly made up of 20 year-olds. How that transpires is not in a decrease of energy on stage. Nope, no fully-seated show, no early end time. In fact, the set list at Daniels’ foot is 16 songs with a three-song encore (most shows run around a dozen songs). But there is a palpable sense that Escovedo carries his history in his songs. A certain dry rasp of the desert. Something primary, rounded and spacious from the southwest. Spikes of punk, hints of bitterness. A boyish grin when he swings his guitar down to end a song.
Escovedo’s voice is as good as ever. Rich and strong, conveying emotion without losing its smooth trajectory. He’s perfectly matched by a rock riff here, a blues peel there. Slow dance and feedback captures some old ache culled from teenagehood: Angst without the benefit of understanding, as synethesized by an adult mind and the benefit of hindsight.
The band plays “This Bed Is Getting Crowded” pure and clean (as much as something gritty can be clean), straightforward with its 4/4 beat; “Tender Heart” is all visceral, sexual and animal. Many of Escovedo’s songs touch on sex and love, on passion as it heats and cools, on attraction and the loss of love, and the humanness of all of love’s forms. Escovedo writes and sings from a place of knowing, but there’s also that visceral, aggressive wildness of his punk roots that both inform and deconstruct his songs.
You know, the people who invented punk, if they aren’t dead, are in their 50s and 60s. They’re members of AARP. Think about it. What does that say about the youthful energy that jettisons rock and punk into the collective conscience? What does it say of those themes of love and sex and how they evolve as we age? Does sex transmutate or does animalism remain in art, in artists?
Later in the night, after a slow, menacing, country-punk drive through “Can’t Make Me Run” and the slicing poetry of “San Antonio Rain,” Escovedo — with a vocoder in hand — lets loose with “I Wanna Be Your Dog” that snarls and torches its way into “Chelsea Hotel ‘78” with its screamed refrain of “It makes no sense, it makes perfect sense.” Complete with audience call-and-response, it’s a highlight of the evening.
If there’s a misstep to the show at all, it might be “Party People,” a party song, naturally, that just feel below Escovedo’s considerable talent and charisma. Especially because, overall, it’s such a deliberate show. Not delicate, but thoughtful and intentional. Raw at points, but always exacting.
Escovedo pauses on stage to talk about his love for Asheville and the Grey Eagle, and to recall a concert, years ago, that he played at The Basement (below Almost Below, the record store housed in what is now The Thirsty Monk) with David Garza. And he also takes the time to introduce his songs with anecdotes and charming snippet of stories, announcing one number as being “for anyone who loves music, as we all do.” Being included in that group — those who love music, as headed up by one such as Alejandro Escovedo — is a pretty nice place to be.