Alejandro Escovedo is one of the great songwriters of our time, infusing his tunes with deft displays of rich narratives and catchy hooks. As an expert guitar player and a rich vocalist he employs every trick of the rock tradition-trade with craft and finesse. His 2001 record, A Man Under the Influence, is as good of an example of this as any of his stellar records. On Tuesday at World Cafe Live, he and an eight-person band performed the album in order, and shared other treats from his catalog and record collection. The result was a sublime night of rock and roll. Below, some photos and highlights from the night.
1. The storyteller
Escovedo is an excellent songwriter, but he’s also a first-rate raconteur. Hearing him sing his songs live is like sitting around a campfire listening to some fascinating person tell enthralling tales about their life. Perhaps the best example of this is “Tugboat,” which recounts his chance meeting with The Velvet Underground’s Sterling Morrison and the subsequent friendship that inspired him to write the song.
2. The guitar poet
One of Escovedo’s secrets to relaying a good tale is his guitar. In songs like opener “Wave,” with its rich guitar lines, he masterfully uses the instrument to manage the theatrics of a moment. And the crowd went insane when he did a windmill on “Castanets.”
3. The stellar band
Escovedo paired up with the great Chris Stamey of The dB's to bring this live version of A Man Under the Influence to life, which resulted in the addition of not only the keys but viola, cello and some fascinating percussive parts. The band also consisted of Lynn Blakey on backing vocals, longtime Escovedo band drummer Hector Munoz, Mitch Easter on guitar and Eric Heywood on pedal steel. The album never sounded better live. And songs like Escovedo’s masterpiece “Sally Was a Cop” and covers like “All the Young Dudes” were infused with even more musical depth.
4. Chris Stamey opened with an awesome—and rare—solo set
Stamey performed a set of his own material and songs from The dB's backed by viola and cello. A great guitarist and wordsmith, he presented a rare set of his material that was punctuated by the last song, the new “Greensboro Days.”