Monday, March 3, 2003

Escovedo switches to subdued side

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Those patrons who expected to spend Friday night at the Southgate House rocking away with Alejandro Escovedo instead took in some alt-country chamber music as un-Friday night as Sunday afternoon.

Escovedo's live performances have long been a mirror of his eclectic career, which spans over 25 years, from playing in punk bands to churning out singer-songwriter material and touching upon all the twangy shades in between. His most rollicking performances have their quiet moments, especially at the Southgate House, where Escovedo is fond of leaving the stage and setting up shop between tables on the floor, without the benefit of microphones.

Even with those unplugged moments in mind, Friday's show was as subdued as it gets with the Texas singer. His current version of the Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra is all-acoustic, with him and David Pulkingham on guitars, Matt Fish on cello, and Susan Voelz (the group's most high-profile player with hipper-than-hip studio credits including the Sea and Cake, Giant Sand and Neil Hagerty) and Cynthia Wigginton on violins.

When a Texas band plays that latter instrument, it's usually called a fiddle, but since Escovedo's crew sat in a semicircle reading sheet music like it was the Kronos Quintet, we'll use the word "violin."

Escovedo told the crowd at the onset of the hour-and-45-minute performance he'd come up with this current live presentation two years ago when asked to play a Valentine's Day show with a love theme. The songs that followed were generally all love-related, and many were slow and melancholy, descriptions that characterize his most championed work. That would include the half-dozen or so tunes he played from 2001's A Man Under the Influence.

"Wedding Day," from that album, was the last song of the night and a perfect summation to the show. The band played the encore from the floor, and the crowd was silent so as to take in Escovedo's bittersweet, unamplified singing and Voelz's pretty harmony vocals.

The highlight of the song was a mandolin solo by guest Duane Jarvis, the opening act and one-time Lucinda Williams sideman. Jarvis' half-hour set included a rendition of "Still I Long for Your Kiss," which he wrote with Williams and appeared on her album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.


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