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Review: Alejandro Escovedo & the Sensitive Boys at Soiled Dove Underground, 11/22/13

ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO at SOILED DOVE UNDERGROUND | 11/22/13 One big takeaway from Alejandro Escovedo's show at the Soiled Dove Underground: The man lives the songs he writes. On stage, he spun tale after tale, at times foraying into extended monologues, to describe the backstory of each song. When millionaire rockers and country artists speak of hardscrabble living, it's mostly bullshit. When Alejandro does so, it's downright transcendent.

When Escovedo and his comrades the Sensitive Boys appeared, they did so without fanfare. No pretension among these guys. They simply walked out, grabbed their gear, and dug their boots into a suite of mid-tempo alt-country tunes. Escovedo, dressed in a suit more befitting of a professor than a rock star, eased into the set. This is expected; after all, the man is now 62 years old and released his first of fourteen solo albums in '92. You do anything that long, and you're bound to approach the stage in stride.

That's how the night went. It was the Goldilocks treatment -- not too hot, not too cold -- and for the style and content of Escovedo's music, that was fine. The lyrics are what matter anyway. And those lyrics will break your goddamn heart. "There used to be a phone booth/Down here on every corner/He used to call me up just to say my name/But now anybody get is a busy signal," Escovedo sings on "Bottom of the World." He spent maybe five minutes or longer leading up to the actual tune, explaining what it was all about: Austin. How it ain't the same. How nothing's the same anymore.

Meanwhile, the band chugged along behind him. There were the occasional flourishes -- a couple twangs one moment, a line that was faintly reminiscent of the Sir Douglas Quintet the next -- but overall, this was Escovedo's night, and his alone.

And, as if to keep with the nostalgia vibe, the band followed up with "San Antonio Rain." Here was another tear-shedder about growing up in a huge family in central Texas and moving to southern California after a road trip in 1957. A couple songs later, we got the natural follow-up to what it felt like to move to Orange County, "Swallows of San Juan," a song about Escovedo spending his latter childhood in Orange County (queue the surfing and road trip references).

Indeed, the man's bio, to say nothing of his infamous near-death experience resulting from Hepatitis C, is full of great stories. Yet he wound down the set by singing another more famous nostalgia-miner's tune, Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane." It was the perfect coda to the set, and was particularly fitted for Escovedo's almost film noirish baritone. As he led the crowd in a big singalong of the chorus, it was hard not to think of how much those folks were getting off on their own nostalgia, recalling a song now 36 years old.


CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

Personal Bias: I first saw Escovedo at a Chattanooga bar where I worked in 2001. The man gets points for consistency: He sounded exactly the same, twelve years later. Random Note: Whoever was slinging drinks last Friday deserves an award for making mixed drinks that tasted like straight whiskey. By the Way: Escovedo is Sheila E.'s uncle!

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