There are certain artistes I know I can bang on about to the point of boredom, perhaps, and Alejandro Escovedo is one of those. This time last year he was touring the UK in an acoustic duo setting with his side-kick, David Pulkingham, playing intimate sets in intimate surroundings. Last night, he was back at St.Bons with his electric band and a new line-up of The Sensitive Boys.
St.Bonaventure’s Social Club is a small room attached to a Catholic Church in Bristol. It has that “workingmen’s club” feel. Round tables, padded seats skirting the walls, cheap electric pump beers, Stowells wine, haunted by the ghosts of ages of Bingo players. Capacity ? 150-ish, I’d say. It is about as far from stadium rock that you can get. But it is building itself a reputation for putting on concerts of great Americana, last night was Alejandro’s return to this venue.
The show opened with a set from Amy Speace who gave us some touching and well written personal songs and stories from a tangled family history. Her voice is clear and strong, and while the guitar work may be unadorned she doesn’t need it to be flash, the songs speak for themselves. She was much appreciated.
Alejandro Escovedo and The Sensitive Boys shuffle on to the small stage and he says his “Hello”. This is a small room – most people are no more than 15 feet away, the tables removed and the bingo chairs out in half a dozen rows and standing room at the back. The artists can see the whites of our eyes.
He opens with the excellent “Sally was a cop” segued into “Anchor” and we’re away. The band are loud are clear, the music is kicking in, the audience is here for the man. The only thing missing is the smoke. New material from “Big Station” blends with the older material seamlessly. “San Antonio Rain” – “Man of the World” – “Sensitive Boys” – “Bottom of the World” – “Down in the Bowery” – and an electric “Sister Lost Soul” , a song that never fails to hit the spot for pure emotion.
When I discovered AE for the first time I was drawn in immediately by the strength of his songwriting. There is a clarity, imagination and a directness that delivers stories and emotions from a seasoned musician who clearly knows his craft. And what you get with Alejandro Escovedo is variety – not variability. That variety comes from a strength and a confidence to play with the pace and subject matter. AE never disappoints.
“Can’t make me run” dies into the dark streets and emerges a vicious, angry “Chelsea Hotel” . It’s as loud and punky as you can get. So many of the audience can still remember those days !
“Chelsea Hotel” roars to a close and as the applause fades the band unplug and armed only with Alejandro’s acoustic they walk to the back of the room and we all join in, camp fire style, “Always a Friend” . Told you you’d get variety.
Encore: More more more.
Amy Stease joins AE for a duet on the gentle “Sabor a Mi” . Just one more, please.
“One more time” , a ballad of lost love drifts away into a familiar chordal break. Hang on, I know that. And the segue into “Like a Hurricane” is perfect. The band clearly love playing this (What a great song, anyway) and it brings the night to a rousing ending.
And God bless the man. He stands at the door and shakes our hands as we leave. I’m left wondering why he can’t fill bigger venues in the UK. At least Friday’s show at The Borderline is sold out. Oh, the challenges of cult followings.
It’s not stadium rock, Alejandro, but those of us who turn up love you. Come back again soon.
And, how many times do I have to tell you folks, support this guy !