Review by Bokonon
Photographs by Tim Livingston
Slim like a knife, looking sharp, vest buttoned, guitar in hand. Alejandro Escovedo says Texas, but he speaks New York. He looks Austin, but he wears L.A. At Club Helsinki, on an April evening, Escovedo, 62, but not a day over 45, takes on a new role — Duke Ellington from Saltillo. The Duke wrote music for the ages, but he penned charts for his particular band of the day. Escovedo, too, lets his players sign his work. David Pulkingham is gone, so is Billy White. Where Joe Eddie Hines once blazed across the spectrum, where John Dee Graham used to riff almighty, now Ricky Ray Jackson takes the chair — literally on pedal steel and figuratively on six-string.
In Hudson, songs from Big Station (“San Antonio Rain,” “Bottom of the World”) take on a new shimmer. Songs from Gravity (“Paradise”) remember leaner, younger days and sing again. And “Castanets” just fucking rocks, don’t argue, it’s the truth.
Mid-show, he returns to an old trick, bringing the band into the room, off the stage. Of course it works. It works every time. But it’s real. He’s close enough to feel the skin on his strings and Jackson, urged by Escovedo, makes like an acoustic Mick Ralphs, slipping licks under the lyrics and translating the joy. Forks down, people. Ears up.
Back onstage, the wooden toys are put away. Chris Searles puts stick to cymbal and turns on the electricity. Escovedo, like Neil Young, whispers or howls. It’s time to howl, and Young’s “Like a Hurricane” is one of the loudest. “Can’t Make Me Run,” too, and the always harrowing “Arizona.”
By the encores, Hudson mainstay Tommy Stinson is on stage, egged on by Escovedo, remembering his True Believers days, more, more, more. “It’s in F,” Stinson says of The Stooges’ “Shake Appeal.” F indeed. Duke Ellington wrote music for the ages, but he never closed with Iggy Pop.