Friday, October 15, 2010

Alejandro Escovedo Faithfully Rocks the True Believers; Jason & The Scorchers Still Burn A-Blazingly Bright -- Concert Reviews

Alejandro Escovedo; photo by Seth Arkin
 Concert Reviews

Alejandro Escovedo & The Sensitive Boys
with The Incurables
October 11, 2010
Lincoln Hall, Chicago
Jason & The Scorchers
with Stacie Collins
October 12, 2010
Double Door, Chicago

I feel safe in assuming that if I looked at your music collection, whether on iTunes, CD or vinyl, it would be split between artists I've heard of and artists I haven't.

That's what's so great about music; we typically have tastes that are communal with the masses, or even just our group of friends, and then there's stuff we love that seems like almost a secret.

Jason & the Scorchers at Double Door; photo by Seth Arkin
Alejandro Escovedo and Jason & The Scorchers have been two of my favorite "secrets" for quite some time now.

Although both have had lengthy and relatively successful careers, during which they've earned critical acclaim and adoring admiration among loyal fans, neither can exactly be considered a household name.

While I believe their music is so good as to merit a much larger audience, it was wonderful to see & hear both over the course of two consecutive nights in cozy & comfortable Chicago venues. Along with opening acts and special guests, Alejandro Escovedo--now recording & touring with a backing band dubbed The Sensitive Boys--and Jason & The Scorchers combined to provide over 6 hours of music for a sum total of $35 (perhaps I should be happy they're not more popular).

Escovedo played Tuesday night at Lincoln Hall, a venue I had first visited just last Wednesday for a Teenage Fanclub show. A meeting I attended in the Loop precluded me from arriving until midway through the set of the opening act--The Incurables, led by Jimmy Griffin--but I liked what I heard enough to pick up their CD after the show.

I came to know Escovedo via his excellent 1996 CD, With These Hands, and have seen him several times, although not nearly as often as Tribune writer Steve Johnson, who wrote of his unapologetically rabid fandom in this piece. But before becoming a solo act from whom I've liked almost everything I've heard, Escovedo was in bands since the mid-'70s, including The Nuns, Rank & File and the True Believers.

Three months shy of turning 60, about five years since Hepatitis C threatened his life and 35 years down the rock 'n roll road, Escovedo needed a few songs before his voice seemed to settle in, but he delivered an extremely satisfying 100-minute set split between old songs and cuts from his excellent new album--Street Songs of Love. His repetoire, culled from a tremedously deep catalog, was also nicely divided between hard-charging rockers like "Anchor" & "Always A Friend" and beautifully delicate ballads like "The Last To Know" and "Rosalie."

Backed quite strongly by The Sensitive Boys, Alejandro also introduced a new song called "My Name is Horizontal," that sounded very good, spoke of writing "Down in the Bowery" for one of his sons with whom he shares a love of The Ramones, revealed that his kid said he "plays old music for old people," and dedicated the instrumental Fort Worth Blue to the late Stephen Bruton, who had produced his first three solo albums.

Despite being championed by, among others, WXRT--which included him in this year's 4th of July concert at Taste of Chicago--and Bruce Springsteen, who has dueted with him multiple times on-stage and record in recent years, Escovedo--who comes through Chicago fairly regularly--didn't quite fill Lincoln Hall, which I believe has a capacity of 250.

His CD--one of the year's best--may rank #2,166 on Amazon, his website may have a paltry traffic rank per and you may not know his name. But I'm glad I do, as there aren't many much better--at writing great songs and playing them live--than Alejandro Escovedo.

And if crowd size on Wednesday nights a week apart is any indication, compared to Jason & the Scorchers, Escovedo's present popularity is positively Gagaesque.

But in terms of putting on an exciting show--as part of a thoroughly satisfying evening, excepting a personal technical snafu--Jason & the Scorchers were even more sizzling.

I didn't precisely count, but it seemed like about 40-50 people, tops, came out to the Double Door to see a band that hadn't toured for 12 years and to me defines the term "country rock" like no other. While the Austin-based Escovedo can also be somewhat considered as such, the Nashvillians led by Jason Ringenberg have significantly more country twang yet also rock a whole lot harder. (This is a link to a 1993 clip that illustrates this well)

I learned about and loved Jason & co. initially through their 1989 album, Thunder and Fire, but they had already garnered considerable acclaim through material that would be compiled on 1992's primer-set, Are You Ready For The Country: The Essential Jason & The Scorchers. I saw them in 1993 at a long-gone Chicago club called China Club and remember them being awesome, and didn't know they had reformed and released a new album this year until I saw the concert listing for last night.

Boy am I glad I did. Not only did they sound great, with two new members accompanying Jason and original guitarist Warner Hodges. Not only did a good helping new songs off Halcyon Times mix perfectly with a healthy dose of classics. Not only is Jason still an extremely warm, charismatic and kinetic frontman. Not only did they play for 2-1/2 hours and wisely had special guest Stacie Collins perform with them, rather than have her do a traditional opening set. And not only did Jason sign the copy of Halcyon Times I bought during a set break, as well as signing my ticket stub, but they even played one of my favorite songs--by anyone, ever--When The Angels Cry (from Thunder and Fire) as the first song of their encore, specifically because I had asked Jason to do so. And it sounded fantastic.

I could almost prove it to you, as I recorded When The Angels Cry on my iPhone, but after having caught basically the whole song, my iPhone informed me that I was out of memory and didn't save it. Bummer.

But I couldn't let that ruin an otherwise fantastic night--pair of nights at that--and was probably inadvertently saved from getting sued by the band for posting it on YouTube.

At right is a pic I snapped of Jason after the show and below is the CD he signed for me.

I don't expect, or even want, us to all have the same musical "secrets."

I just hope that when yours come to town, they satisfy you every bit as much as two of mine just did.
Fortunately, even though my iPhone crapped out and didn't let me save Wednesday night's version of When the Angels Cry, played due to my request, Jason & The Scorchers also played it a couple months ago in Sweden--they seemingly don't often--as caught in this clip:

This is a clip of Alejandro Escovedo covering the Rolling Stones' Beast of Burden with special guest Bruce Springsteen at a show earlier this year at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ. Minus the Boss, it was also one of Al's encore's on Tuesday.

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