Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival
5th May 2019
Over the past 45 years, Alejandro Escovedo, has been constantly reinventing himself; punk, balladeer, rocker, country singer, playwright, street poet and chronicler of our times, Tonight we get it all in an exhilarating show lasting 2 hours and more. There is a style and grace about the man and the performer, that evades most on the circuit, yet for Alejandro, it is as natural as tuning his guitar.
Joining the Texan on stage are an Italian quartet, Don Antonio, lead by Antonio Gramatieri, they are his backing band and play support in their right. It’s a short set, but hugely entertaining. Difficult to explain the sound, but imagine a Serge Leone film being soundtracked by an Italian Shadows with a touch of Booker T and Los Straitjackets. Antonio quips that the crowd should show them the “unconditional love for being part of the main act, rather the hatred and apathy reserved for a support band”. They get lots of the former. Deservedly so!
Without fanfare or introduction, Alejandro joins them on stage, and with an inviting “shall we gentlemen” to his bandmates, he blasts off with the ever infectious ‘Anchor’.
From the opening salvo, the Oh Yeah Music Centre, Belfast is treated to an engaging mix of heady rock, classic songs, and beguiling storytelling from a master craftsman. This really shouldn’t work… The contrast is quite stark. The always sartorially eloquent Escovedo (tonight sporting a white ruffled fronted shirt) and The four Italians clad all in black at times seeming to be waiting on the remains appearing at a funeral. But work it does!
‘The Crossing’, is Alejandro’s most recent album and a song cycle which charts the journey of two dreamers going to America to capture the land they have grown to love through music, film and literature, only to find that such a land has been replaced by a country ridden by fear and hatred of anyone different.
I saw the zeros and they looked like me. This is the America that I want to be. Anarchy and Hollywood, the land of the free. I saw the zeros and they looked like me.
It’s a tale of our time, and possibly the best album he has released. The dreamers are one Mexican and one Italian, and the songs are chapters in their journey. Alejandro reminds us that this is happening all around the globe. In his homeland, he has no doubts who is to blame, and fires a coruscating tirade at Trump, to much applause. He compare his father’s story, a immigrant from Mexico and father to 13 children, 8 of them professional musicians, to Trump, The joy that his father has brought to the world compared to the misery and hate that Trump has engendered He really does not sit on the wall, “I cannot stand the man, I really despise him. He has divided our country. Our country is in shambles,” before launching in to ‘Fury and the fire’.
There is so much to admire tonight. There is light and shade. There are songs that rock like their existence relied on it, ‘Castanets’, ‘Teenage Luggage’, and “Sonica USA’, and there are tender songs to rip your heart, ‘Something Blue’ and “Sister Lost Soul’ from the superb ‘Real Animal’.
A request from the crowd, is instantly addressed by Alejandro, and he leaves the stage to sing a poignant acoustic version of ‘Down in the Bowery’, that will be an abiding memory for a lot of people at this show.
The show closes with the latest record’s title track, ‘The Crossing’ and the remaining dreamer, ponders if his journey, which saw the death of his friend at the hands of a racist, was worth it. A lament for lost friends (And dreams?). But things that cost, are also worth striving for. The encore is party time and a mix of Dylan’s ‘Tom Thumb’s Blues’, ‘Waiting On My Man’, and the anthemic ‘Always a Friend’. Alejandro is an artist who always delivers, and tonight was no exception. For me, one of the very best songwriters in the world, his shows are a constant delight. Largo puede correr. Long may he run.