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Review: Alejandro Escovedo crackling with drive and energy in anticipated Salt Lake City return

First Published      Last Updated Feb 28 2017 03:12 pm

After more than four decades on the road, you might expect Alejandro Escovedo to phone in a Monday night in Salt Lake City.

You'd be wrong.

Escovedo's show at The State Room was full-throttle rock 'n' roll, crackling with so much drive and energy that it ranks among the best recent shows I've seen.

Escovedo opened the set with a brooding rendition of "Big Station," but followed it up with a rocking version of "Horizontal" and "Beauty of Your Smile" of his latest album. By his fourth song, the fan favorite "Castanets," the crowd was on fire, joining in on the refrains of "I like it better when she walks away."



Escovedo apologized for having to cancel last time he was due in town, having to cancel is 2014 show just a few months after having narrowly survived a Category 4 hurricane while on his honeymoon in Mexico.

During the course of the night, Escovedo meandered between throbbing guitar rock and the urgent punk rock where he started his career.

Maybe it's the Red Iguana that gives Escovedo his mystical powers. He recounted his long-time friendship with Red Iguana founder Ramon Cardenas, who he met decades ago. Whenever the band was within 200 miles of Salt Lake, Escovedo said, they would find their way here.

He said Cardenas, who passed away in 2004, would knock on the door of the band's van, wake them up and they would all sit in the kitchen and watch him making mole.

Escovedo featured several tracks of his new record, "Burn Something Beautiful," including excellent versions of "Beauty and the Buzz," "Suit of Lights," and an extraordinary version of "Johnny Volume", that built into a huge six-minute crescendo of wailing guitars and pounding drums.

Jason Victor's fiery, wailing solos on guitar were truly amazing, a dirty, driven soaring kind of guitar rock that has defined Escovedo's music since his days in The Nuns and Rank and File.

Speaking of Rank and File, Escovedo — who isn't just a student of music history, but a participant — lamented the rise and fall of the music scene in Austin, Texas, the city he moved to from California with $50, a bag of pot and a chicken, the day that Ronald Reagan was elected president.

"Austin has changed so much since then. There's really no place for artists," said Escovedo, who abandoned the city for Dallas about 18 months ago.

But it was in Austin where Escovedo said he met two of his musical heroes, Ronnie Lane and Ian McLagan of the groups Faces and Small Faces and dedicated a version of "Cindy Incidentally" to McLagan, who co-wrote the song with Escovedo.

In his encore, Escovedo was joined on stage by the evening's opener, Jesse Malin, and ripped through a cover of The Heartbreakers' "Chinese Rocks," and capped the night with Leonard Cohen's "A Thousand Kisses Deep," that started in the traditional Cohen shuffle beat, then unfolded into a 20-minute long jaw-dropping guitar inferno — the kind that, when it's over, everyone stares at each other trying to comprehend what they just saw.

Malin, a journeyman rock/punk fixture, was entertaining in his role as the opener for the night, spinning winding, sardonic yarns between his songs.

The crowd was energetic, if a little sparse. Monday night shows can be a challenge and The State Room seemed to be about two-thirds full for the evening. But those who were there saw one of the hardest working musicians in the business proving he's still got plenty of gas in the tank.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke

 

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