Like many, I think Alejandro Escovedo is a genius. Even after a two-year battle with a life-threatening illness-which he bravely conquered-the man still makes better music than just about anyone else. So with my preconceived notions only slightly obstructing my critical perspective, I’ve attempted to articulate what made for yet another fabulous Sings Like Hell show at the Lobero Theatre.
Lots of rockers use strings for embellishment or to suggest some musical “maturity,” but Escovedo gives the violin and cello so much room to breathe-and at times snarl-that you forget you’re listening to chamber instruments at all. On Saturday night, Escovedo’s tunes seemed to envelop the audience in a wash-no, a wave-of rapturous sound, filling the Lobero with gorgeous, deep arrangements.
When the set shifted between the symphonic and the more straightforward rock ‘n’ roll, some audience members were forced to cover their ears as they nodded their heads to Escovedo’s aggressive, tight rock bridges. In these moments Escovedo moved around the stage, egging on his string players and asking for more volume before approaching his lead guitarist and urging him to play harder. As each song faded out to the hum of the cello, or a Mexican-tinged guitar solo, the audience sat, stunned at what they had witnessed.
More than anything else, there was a raw and sincere aggression to how Escovedo performed. Here is a man who has fought all his life-fought to break stereotypes in the music industry, fought to save his life, fought to help his family. And the tenacity that only a fighter can truly possess emerged in song after song on Saturday night.
Even in the midst of the musical miasma, Escovedo doled out tunes about his mother with lines like, “Has your last breath hung forever?” And though loss girded many of Escovedo’s songs, it seemed clear in watching this joyful human being onstage that playing music delivers him from his pain.
A.J. Roach opened the evening’s show, and would do well to take some cues from Escovedo and give his own band some space to play. His four-piece’s strummy performance (save the fiddler, who got some time to saw) was decent, but Roach seemed to deliver his lyrics like a radio show character, creating a sound that was distracting and unconvincing.
By the grace of good things, Escovedo will continue to make essential music and-one hopes-bless our little seaside town with future performances, because even at a Sings Like Hell show, his presence brings us all closer to heaven.