Photos By Ebet Roberts
Tejano roots-rocker Alejandro Escovedo has digested a wide range of music in his 30-odd years as a performer, from punk rock to hard rock to Chicano rock, and alt- just about everything, but Leonard Cohen? City Winery booked Escovedo for a short stand, and we caught the talented singer/guitarist for an evening of Cohen’s songs.
Alejandro Escovedo took the stage natty and trim in a patterned silver lamé jacket, tight pants and a big, swinging tie. Backed by two female vocalists and what looked like six pieces (but turned out to be seven, with one guitarist, Chris Holtzen, playing guitar from backstage), Escovedo kicked the evening off with an Election Year Special, “Democracy (Is Coming to the USA).” No stranger to political statements—in 2005, Escovedo refused to play one of his own songs for two years because President George W. Bush had it on his iPod—Escovedo sang quite a few of the 50-odd verses Cohen said made up the song, which itself took Cohen four years (i.e., one Presidential term) to write. If the audience came for Cohen hits like “Suzanne” and “Hallelujah,” they didn’t get them, they got deep cuts.
Regular solos by Elias Haslanger on sax and Mitch Watkins on guitar kept the evening moving, although ironically, the Cohen song I enjoyed most, “She Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” featured a break for most of the band and a long, tender piano intro and accompaniment by the talented Sean Giddings. Throughout the evening, however, Escovedo straddled a line between his rocker self and Cohen’s studious songs, with the result that too many of the songs sounded like he was walking on eggshells.
Finally, at the end of the first set, Escovedo announced he was working on a new album (out in April) with R.E.M. guitarist and sometime tourmate Peter Buck. The Man then brought back the full band and let loose with his own new song, “Who Am I When You Look At Me?” and reminded us all why we are Alejandro Escovedo fans.