Rock Roundup

The Overlooked Artistry of Alejandro Escovedo

A great musician who effortlessly mines country, Tex-Mex, folk, punk and more, he plays at Shank Hall.

By - May 4th, 2015 02:09 pm
Alejandro Escovedo. Photo from facebook.

Alejandro Escovedo. Photo from facebook.

Alejandro Escovedo & the Sensitive Boys, Tuesday, May 5 at Shank Hall

Alejandro Escovedo has played in Milwaukee so often that I’m tempted to say it’s your own fault if you haven’t witnessed his jagged brilliance. Then I remember that I might be less aware of him if, years ago, a friend hadn’t insisted on dragging me to Middleton where, under the shadow of a moose head, Escovedo casually devastated me.

That was before Escovedo dealt with Hepatitis C, an affliction that drew more attention to his music as well as to the oft-uninsured circumstances he shared with other hard-working musicians. After he recovered, he went back on the road and kept epitomizing the song line, and later live album title, he used to summarize his existence: “more miles than money.”

Still, he didn’t begin his solo career until he was 40, with the very personal 1992 LP Gravity, and that was after some of his bands, like Rank and File and True Believers, spiraled into oblivion. He must be used to the gap between efforts and rewards.

Meanwhile, he’s been acclaimed by forefathers—including John Cale, who produced 2006’s The Boxing Mirror—and peers—including R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, a road partner last year. Buck and Scott McCaughey, a touring R.E.M. alumnus and Baseball Project bandleader, are working on Escovedo’s next studio project.

Escovedo’s most recent albums, 2010’s Street Songs of Love and 2012’s Big Station, exemplify his ability to churn traditional country, Tex-Mex, folk, punk, and whatever else pleases him into gutbucket rock ‘n’ roll suitable for any inexpensive occasion.

With the Sensitive Boys backing him and former BoDeans co-leader Sam Llanas opening, Escovedo ought to be in the fine, fighting fettle he’s shown every other time he’s stopped in town. You could wait until next time, but why not hear his new material now?


Tuesday, May 5: The Waterboys at Turner Hall Ballroom

Mike Scott is one of those frontmen who wants the general structure of a band without seeing the same damned faces. Hence, the Waterboys, a song-delivery system that has lasted for most of the years since the early 1980s (excepting a hiatus from 1993 to 2000) and within which he is the sole constant.

Scott’s restlessness is good for Modern Blues, the 2015 Waterboys album, recorded in Nashville with session musicians like the esteemed David Hood (father to Patterson of Drive-By Truckers). Scott’s warble has deepened, and his songs are lived-in without being boring. In other words, he’s more like Peter Wolf than Mark Knopfler.


Friday, May 8: Pianos Become the Teeth at Cactus Club

I do not know if Keep You, which last year became the third album from Pianos Become the Teeth, has garnered brickbats from that subset of fans who think the Baltimore band has abandoned its post-hardcore, “screamo” style in favor of something that doesn’t offer a single instance of throat-shredding vocals.

I also do not care that much about whatever complaints there might be, because Keep You is a highly melodic, if somber, turn away from the redline overdrive of 2011’s The Lack Long After. And the contrast should be even more interesting, perhaps vertiginous, in a live environment. Let the hardest of the hardcore approach with open ears.


Friday, May 8: Five Finger Death Punch at Rave

Five Finger Death Punch’s May did not start off very well, according to this report, although the same report also suggests, contrary to the beliefs of excitable fans from Twitter to YouTube, that the metal band with one of the greatest names in existence did not break up after, of because of, a truncated performance.

Members have departed and been replaced since FFDP’s 2005 assembly from alumni of other metal groups; the grooves of the music and success with critics and headbangers have kept the enterprise going. 2013 saw two volumes of The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, and a new disc, Got Your Six, is due later in 2015…if, you know, the band survives.


Saturday, May 9: Tech N9ne at Rave

The “horrorcore” subgenre of rap is not unlike the horror genre in cinema: a morass of garbage in which islands of quality are especially visible for their rarity. In the case of movies, such an island is The Exorcist, from 1973; in the case of rap, it’s the discography of Kansas City native Aaron Yates, a.k.a. Tech N9ne.

One of N9ne’s particular talents is for effective rather than marquee collaborations: fairly obscure rhymers and singers get to shine next to tracks festooned with Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, and System of a Down’s Serj Tankian. His latest effort, Special Effects, is out this week, so he ought to have some motivation to be scarily memorable onstage.

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