“There we go!” Alejandro Escovedo laughed into the microphone at the sound of a glass hitting the deck. “The party’s started – it sounds like Texas.”
He was on stage in Belfast’s Errigle Inn on the Irish leg of his Burn Something Beautiful 2016-2017 Tour. Flanked by his touring compatriots Don Antonio from Italy, Escovedo was playing on a stage low enough and close enough to his audience to allow the performers to hear what was happening on the floor. At quiet gigs in the Errigle you can hear the ice being tossed into glasses, back at the bar. This wasn’t a quiet gig though. This was rock, and bass, and drums. It was sax, and maybe some sort of synth? It was ballsy, loud, all boys on stage. It was rock and roll.
Alejandro Escovedo’s rock and roll credentials are gold plated. As a young punk, in his band The Nuns, he played at the Sex Pistols’ last ever gig back in ’78. I’m of the generation for which that alone is a show stopper. He’d made history, this young upstart and his band of young upstarts. But it was only the beginning. Further bands over the years kept the punk, captured the alt-country, got tighter with the guitar rock, rode as vehicles for his confessional/topical/searing songs about the real world.
Support act Don Antonio is the brainchild of Antonio Gramentieri of the band Sacri Cuori. “Adriatic Twang” the Cuori’s would describe themselves. “Retrofuturismo, Romantic Italian Music from the next Golden Age, Same Old Blues.” Then add on Don Antonio’s take on their own bespoke genre – “Soundtracks for the new Mediterraneans,” and you get an idea of the melting pot that was steaming on stage the other night at the Errigle. Americana and all its musical styles washed through with cultures and languages and attitudes from the US, from Italy, from Escovedo’s Mexico. Hispanic coated punk, Adriatic boogie woogie, rhythm and blues swagger and the spontaneous joy of the best playing with the best. And it was a few feet away from where I was standing.
Take the first sultry offering, ‘Can’t Make Me Run.’ The growing drum brought us in with gradual volume, and the street-urban drive-by menace grew with the bass appearing, then breathing, then appearing again. Siren guitar was warning enough of what was unfolding as the long lead-in finally started to explain itself with Escovedo’s words. “Who really cares about tomorrow?” he was asking. “Who really cares about today?” It was of course guitar grounded, but the saxophone, courtesy of Don Antonio’s Francesco Valtieri ,upped the humid, muggy, grimy pall, creating the framework in which asking “Who really cares about today?” is a feasible proposition.
Escovedo and Gramentieri would play off against each other regularly throughout the night. Facing each other, standing sideways to the crowd, injecting the show with the afore mentioned swagger. It would shift from raucous to growling, from momentary to a stretched focus on the task in hand. All of them highlighting the talent on stage, adding a nice touch of rock and roll bluster.
In an interview last month he said, “As I started to play I was really into the Stooges, and the Velvet Underground and Mott the Hoople, David Bowie, T Rex, Roxy Music. It just kind of developed over the years as I got better on guitar, and then I became more of a songwriter. All these different things kind of started to come through in one way or another.” As they played on stage in Belfast and moved seamlessly from ‘Can’t Make Me Run’ to ‘Shave The Cat’ off his most recent album, Burn Something Beautiful, a gorgeous 70s, T Rex crunch filled the room, and the show shifted officially from good start, to electric. All bets were off.
I was sometimes slightly shocked at how loud Escovedo’s singing actually was on the night. He knows what he wants to say and how he wants to say it. A few songs in and a group of people had emerged from the far corner to dance between tables. ‘Bottom of the World’ enticed movement amongst the crowd, this a song about the changing face of Austin, Texas. This was followed by, ‘Sister Lost Soul’, the harmonies were surprisingly tight for a band that had not met Escovedo until he had arrived in Italy at the start of the tour – although admittedly they have been living on the road in each other’s pocket ever since.
“Our President is singling out my people” he told us, getting beautifully political about the American leadership and the impact it is having. He followed this with the astonishing and brutal ‘Sally Is A Cop,’ keen to point out that it’s not just the authorities that people need to protect their communities from.
“They’re marching up the streets, people hiding in their cupboards /From the crooked politicos to the mercenary lovers. Children forced to dig the graves of their fathers. Sally was a cop, but now she’s a soldier”
The song this time had stand out, machine gun drums, the bass and the sax giving it a night-time feel. It had the crowd on the floor doing the “Ooh oohs,” and it had Escovedo and Gramentieri executing a screaming guitar play-off. Spellbinding, really. “Antonio is one the finest guitarists I’ve ever played with” grinned Escovedo afterwards, “and I’ve played with some greats.” We all hope for the sake of both Sacri Cuori and Don Antonio, that Gramentieri hasn’t become unbearable now.
The encore was comprised of other people’s songs. The audience told, “We’re going to try a song we’ve never done before, excuse if I read the lyrics.” And there he stood with a sheet in hand, singing Leonard Cohen’s “Alexandra Leaving.” Then Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane” with Matteo Monti’s momentous drums and the screaming, siren guitar. I didn’t see much of that one; everyone was standing, going a bit insane with it all to be honest. This was an incredible gig. Live music, you gotta love it.
Photos by Gerry McNally.