One of the more intriguing aspects of Alejandro Escovedo’s local performance history over the past two decades has been the dual identities used to present his music. One has been a primarily acoustic, chamber-style setting; the other a more jagged, electric environment. Last night during a sold-out performance at Natasha’s with violinist Susan Voelz as his lone accompanist, both profiles converged nicely in a program with a strong autobiographical design.
The majority of the 1¾-hour show aligned songs from throughout Escovedo’s extensive solo career with corresponding stories – spoken snapshots, in a way – from the famed Texas songwriter’s personal and professional upbringing.
The show-opening The Rain Won’t Help You When It’s Over, pulled from his ’80s tenure with the Austin band True Believers, was prefaced with a remembrance of Escovedo’s early days as a songwriter. San Antonio Rain – one of four tunes presented from his most recent album, 2012’s Big Station – outlined his family’s move to California. The still-haunting Wave offered the first of several Father’s Day tributes the singer offered to his own dad.
Wave especially underscored the show’s wonderful instrumental dynamics. With Escovedo securing the rhythm role, Voelz was free to play huge, elongated lines around the melodies. Some came with an exactness that directly enhanced the song’s drama. But there also were intuitive flourishes and fills that alternately drove and embellished the music.
Escovedo didn’t forsake his rock ’n’ roll persona, though. While an encore of the Rolling Stones’ Sway was played as an acoustic elegy and the show-closing take on Mott the Hoople’s All the Young Dudes was presented less like a rock anthem and more as a cordial sing-along, Escovedo’s own Everybody Loves You let the singer and Voelz lock horns. With Escovedo switching to electric guitar, the two traded jagged solos, riffs and assorted musical barbs until the brakes were slammed on, with the singer returning to rhythm duties. The tension and release that dominated the song represented one of the evening’s two great extremes.
The other was the lullaby version of Ian Hunter’s I Wish I Was Your Mother, a staple of Escovedo’s concerts for the past 20 years. Avoiding any undue sentimentalism, the song was delivered as a quiet confession that interspersed lovely interplay with a beat or two of exquisite silence. An effective implementation of the latter is a trait of a master songsmith, even when the song he is singing isn’t exclusively his own.