I went downtown on Tuesday night and saw Alejandro Escovedo perform a concert at the Taft Theatre Ballroom. It was a great show, but a strange one for me. You see, the concert marked the first time I’ve seen the singer in a venue that wasn’t the Southgate House. I spent much of Wednesday night digging around in my black trunk in an attempt to determine how many times I actually saw him at my old haunt. It took me hours of sorting through ticket stubs, scribbled setlists, and journal entries, but I eventually confirmed that I saw Alejandro Escovedo at the Southgate House seven different times going back to 1999. I made a chart to help keep track of the dates and am including it in this post so I won’t have to redo my research the next time he comes to town.
Not only was this the first time I’ve seen Alejandro Escovedo in a place that wasn’t the Southgate House, but it was the first time I’ve ever seen a show at the Taft Theatre Ballroom (or “The Ballroom at the Taft Theatre”, as it says on the ticket).
I think the fact that I was seeing Alejandro Escovedo in a new venue made this show unlike any of the others I’ve seen. It was still a great performance, but it felt different. Have you ever seen a person somewhere far away from the place you usually associate with them? Like seeing your yoga instructor at the flea market? Or catching sight of the librarian picking out a cantaloupe at the grocery? It’s weird. There’s a disconnect. Most of this concert felt like that.
I did my best to get over the weirdness by doing what I always do at concerts: take notes in a Moleskine with a red pen. Here’s what I came away with:
The words in parentheses are just reminders of the stories Alejandro Escovedo told in between the songs. As you can see, he was quite talkative. I usually find this annoying, but the man is a talented storyteller and I never drifted or wished he’d shut up and get on with it. Did you know his band the Nuns opened up for the final Sex Pistols concert? Did you know he wears Nudie brand jeans? Did you know his niece was engaged to Prince? All of this is true.
Here’s that setlist cleaned up with the story bits taken out:
Main set: Five Hearts Breaking / Bottom of the World / Sally Was a Cop / Rosalie / San Antonio Rain / Chelsea Hotel ’78 / Down in the Bowery / Arizona / Velvet Guitar / Always a Friend (contained a few lines of the Miracles’ “The Tracks of My Tears”)
Encore: Sister Lost Soul / Castanets
This show was officially billed as the Alejandro Escovedo Trio and featured cello, keys, and guitar. Alejandro played an acoustic guitar on all the songs except for one, “Chelsea Hotel ’78”. This song was definitely the low point of the evening, but it had little to do with the electric guitar. It had more to do with the fact that he sang it with a strange microphone that muffled the words and made them sound like they were coming from a bullhorn. That mic had been put to good use on parts of “Sally Was a Cop”, but I didn’t care to hear it for an entire song.
Fortunately, there were plenty of highlights. The lovely version of “Five Hearts Breaking” that opened the show comes to mind. I was also fond of “Rosalie”, “Velvet Guitar”, and the last song of the main set, “Always a Friend”. That one featured a portion of “The Tracks of My Tears” near the end. It was quite touching. Strangely enough, it was as close as we came to a cover song during this entire show. I guess that’s another way this concert was different from the ones I saw at the Southgate House; there were usually two or three covers at each of those. Over the years I heard Alejandro Escovedo cover the Velvet Underground, David Bowie, the Gun Club, Mott the Hoople, and the Rolling Stones. Those covers were always among the highlights of the night.
Perhaps the best song of this night was the very last song. “Castanets” is such a fun one to hear live. By that point, I wasn’t all hung up on the Kiwanis Club-vibe of the venue or thinking about how special those Southgate House shows were. I was just having fun seeing one of my favorite singers perform and already wondering when I’d get to see him again. I don’t care where the show is, I want to see Alejandro Escovedo a ninth time!