Is Alejandro Escovedo the Ultimate Survivor?
A key rock innovator since the 1970s, he headlines a week that also features Jeff Bridges and the Abiders
Week’s Top Show: Alejandro Escovedo and Joe Ely at Northern Lights Theater, Potawatomi Bingo Casino, Friday, August 22
As Pete Townshend knows, a sly turn of phrase can become a signature and then an albatross, and if his is “Hope I die before I get old,” then Alejandro Escovedo’s is “More miles than money,” drawn from both his song “Last to Know” and the title of his 1998 live LP.
Said LP did increase Escovedo’s visibility and decrease the miles-to-money ratio, welcome turns after struggling in The Nuns during the 1970s (and incidentally helping to establish San Francisco’s punk scene) and with Rank and File and True Believers in the 1980s (and incidentally pioneering the alt-country sound).
He had entered his 40s by the time he issued Gravity, a 1992 debut solo full-length that established his bona fide songwriting voice and was also a harrowing, if poetic, depiction of the aftermath of his wife’s suicide.
There was also his Hepatitis C, which he knew about in the 1990s but did not treat until he collapsed after a show in 2003. Even as he recuperated, though, Escovedo maintained career momentum thanks to many other musicians participating in benefit concerts and interpreting his songs on Por Vida, a two-disc tribute featuring Lucinda Williams, Son Volt and John Cale.
Once Escovedo could return to the road, he did, and he also went back to the studio to cut albums that have solidified his status as an elder statesman for rock ‘n’ roll fans who think their other, richer elder statesman have failed to represent them. He’s even started a new band, the Fauntleroys, with similar statesmen (and one stateswoman).
Joe Ely goes back even further than his fellow Texas resident, having played with Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock at one end of the 1970s and the Clash at the other end. His most recent album has the lovely title Satisfied at Last, although his innate roots-rock restlessness might eventually give the lie to any sense of being truly settled.
Tuesday, August 20: The Supersuckers at Mad Planet
Gleefully ironic in presentation—cowboy hats and Satanic signifiers remain common—the ‘suckers have rarely skimped on the party pleasures of rock ‘n’ roll, and the latest release, 2014’s Get the Hell, is a straight-ahead continuation of the garage, punk, metal and plain-old hard rock the group has been providing for more than 20 years.
Friday, August 22: Sugar Stems at Cactus Club
In my first youth, I periodically wondered what it was like to live in cities where it was possible to take all the great local music for granted…until I realized that Milwaukee was just as capable as any other metropolis of treating a healthy music scene as an inalienable right.
Of course there isn’t such a right, which is why I’m taking a moment to let you know that Sugar Stems have a third album, Only Come Out at Night, available right now and that it sports a dozen power-pop songs that are as tangy as Sweet Tarts minus the risks of tooth decay and therefore worthy of local support.
Saturday, August 23: Jeff Bridges & the Abiders at Pabst Theater
Because “the Abiders” is a neon sign pointing to a famous line (“The Dude abides”) from an indelible character (“Dude” Lebowski) Jeff Bridges played in the Lebowski Fest-spawning 1998 Coen Brothers flick The Big Lebowski, you might wonder how much effort Bridges is putting into his musical vocation.
(You might also enjoy confirmation that not absolutely every hipster adores Lebowski: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vr3aPxi3Qcw)
Two official Bridges albums, 2000’s Be Here Soon and 2011’s Jeff Bridges, indicate a left-handed endeavor, especially compared to the music from his turn as alcoholic country singer “Bad” Blake in 2009’s Crazy Heart. Yet the man’s easygoing attitude might—in sharp contrast to the actors-turned-musicians who either want too badly to be taken seriously or want too badly to make jokes of themselves—be his unconcealed edge.
Sunday, August 24: Grouplove and Portugal The Man at the Rave
Grouplove’s origin story—supposedly, the five members, some of whom already knew each other, hit it off so well in Crete that they ultimately ended up in L.A. and formed a band together—is so indie-movie cute that only the exuberance of the second LP, last year’s Spreading Rumours [sic], allows me to be kind.
Portugal. The Man, as its officially known, with that odd period and name, has an easier time with me thanks to its Wasilla, Alaska background, which seems to have helped it avoid getting too puffed-up after moving to Portland and, more recently, working with producer Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton on its latest soberly psychedelic disc, Evil Friends.