Making his fourth appearance on Austin City Limits, Alejandro Escovedo took the stage Friday night in a sleek grey vest, accompanied by his band, the Sensitive Boys, and back-up vocalists, sparkling in black sequins. Preparing for the release of his tenth album, Street Songs of Love, due June 29, Escovedo devoted much of the set to the new record.
Kicking things off with the energetic “Always A Friend,” from his Real Animal release, Escovedo was all smiles. While he’d joked during afternoon rehearsal, “This is like so many shows we’ve played in the past; where no one claps,” now with the lights and cameras in place and a crowded house, the audience was happy to applaud.
David Pulkingham laid into a heavy guitar on “This Bed is Getting Crowded,” and Escovedo introduced the guitarist, elaborating that he was also the force responsible for bringing “Anchor,” the next new song, to life. After trading riffs with Pulkingham, Escovedo explained how the new album was built – piece by piece during a two-month residency at Austin’s Continental Club. This segued into the titular “Street Songs,” an ode to the Club’s South Congress neighborhood.
Since 1980 Escovedo has called Austin home, and, introducing “Sister Lost Soul,” he recalled his days in South Austin where he met Stephen Bruton (first known to him as a “handsome jogger”), who would go on to produce albums for Escovedo, and who passed away last year. Escovedo dedicated the song to him, summoning a gentle organ and choir-like back-up vocals. After another slower number, “Down in the Bowery,” written for his teen son, Escovedo exclaimed, “Let’s get noisy again,” and they did with “Chelsea Hotel ’78.” While they’d played a version of this during afternoon rehearsal, here they pulled out the stops, allowing for some noisy guitar shredding.
During rehearsal one of the backing vocalists had pulled pairs of maracas from a backpack, and they now made an appearance on “Undesired.” Bringing out another new song, a jazzy piano kicked off “Faith” (which features Bruce Springsteen on the record) and inspired some dancing in the crowd. Without stopping the band plunged into “Real Animal” as if it were “Great Balls of Fire” before ultimately easing into the mellow organ-laced “After the Meteor Showers.”
While the set had had an ebb and flow of fast-paced numbers and more mellow tunes, it was at the end, anticipating a revision of the cello-tinged “Tula” that Escovedo and his band got down to some serious guitar business, pounding out a loud and tight rendition of “Everybody Loves Me.” In front of a home crowd, it certainly felt that way.