- by Mark Moody Rating: Release Date: Label:
For an artist who has returned repeatedly to the subject of boundaries and borders in his songwriting, Alejandro Escovedo is blissfully oblivious to both when it comes to his varied musical approaches. On a night when the weather called for staying in, those who ventured out to the venerable Cat’s Cradle (my first trip) were rewarded with a cross-cultural dynamic that yielded an unleashed hybrid vigor. Touring in support of his album, The Crossing, with Italian band Don Antônio backing him, the show was a high wattage spectacle from the get-go.
The album, as Escovedo explained it to us mid-set, details the disillusionment that two teenage immigrant boys (one Mexican, one Italian) experience lighting out to L.A. from their adoptive home of Galveston, Texas, where they work at an Italian restaurant. Their only recompense ends up being the savior that is punk rock. Not the first souls to be saved, or destroyed for that matter, by rock and roll. The not so dissimilar arc that Escovedo’s 68 years have taken have planted him on terra firma with reason to celebrate.
On their first trip to the United States, in spite of supporting plenty of American touring bands in Europe, the band pulled heavily from their self-titled 2017 debut. Primarily an instrumental band, they charmed vocally as well on the few spots where they sang. The songs varied from the more bluesy ‘Mestizo’ to the traditional Italian waltz of the beautiful, yet tortured they told us, ‘Adelita’. The full-throated ‘Soukana’ had more of the spaghetti Western sound you might expect, but the band delighted the most on the Italian twist of ‘Baballo’. Drawing from the carefree sound back in the day from the likes of Edoardo Vianello with the band gamely “ba ba ba”ing along, Gramentieri also sprinkled in American surf and plenty of ‘Johnny B. Goode’ licks as drummer, Matteo Monti, put in perfect fills. A short but fully engaged set. All you could do during the break was try and imagine what Escovedo would sound like with these compadres running alongside him.
Escovedo played pretty close to the layout of the album but mixed in some appropriate choices from his past catalog. The gritty ‘Teenage Luggage’ which sounded a cross between cowpunk and ‘Sacramento and Polk’ was followed with a scorching ‘Castanets’. Escovedo switched to acoustic guitar for several songs including the garage-y ‘Outlaw For You’ that gave keyboard player, Nicola Peruch, his one-handed ’96 Tears’ organ moment. Quieter passages were provided by The Crossings’ ‘Something Blue’, but more on point was the decade-old ‘Sensitive Boys’. The irony of the line “sensitive boys, the world needs you now” was not lost in the current climate and sounded like a plea for much-needed mercy.
But the night was truly staged to celebrate the more musically unhinged side of Escovedo’s ever-shifting styles. The son of Mexican immigrants, he described ‘Fire and Fury’ as his most pointed song ever and let the song do the talking for him. The last song before the encore was a lively yet heartfelt ‘Always A Friend’. Introducing bass player, Denis Valentini as the one on stage with the best voice, Escovedo proved himself right as he and Valentini shared lines in the chorus looking at each other across the stage. This simple moment of two men singing back and forth about friendship, neither in their mother tongue, said more about the travesty of building walls than any speech could have.
All photos: Dan Kulpa