Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
lejandro Escovedo would never be accused of running to stand still. The latest proof of that is his excellent, penetrating album, "The Crossing." For starters, it's a concept album in an era where few exist. "The Crossing" is about two immigrants from Italy and Mexico settling in Galveston, Texas to explore American life as they thought it existed before they immigrated. The problem was that the reality of life in the U.S. fell far short of their dreams.
If the players backing Escovedo in concert did not look familiar, there was a good reason. Unless you're probably from Italy, you would not heard of the Don Antonio Band, named for the guitarist of the band. Escovedo said musician friends recommended the ensemble to him. Escovedo and Antonio got together in Italy and quickly went on a 35-gig, 40-day tour covering 10 European countries. They clicked so well, they recorded "The Crossing" in a studio in Mogdiliana, Italy.
After their own smart set of spaghetti western styled instrumentals where they stretched out, they were right there behind Escovedo in the flesh.
Escovedo smartly focused mainly on "The Crossing," playing 12 of its 17 songs during his 1 ¾-set. This was one thoughtful and obviously relevant work to life in the U.S. today. Escovedo made slight reference to politics during his stage patter, leaving his songs to do far more of the talking. The subject matter wasn't uplifting.
The concert was more of a rock show, less rootsy than the recorded version. Escovedo and Antonio could raise quite the musical ruckus on guitars (that's a compliment) on such songs as "Sonica USA" and especially on the ferocious, muscular closing song of the night, a searing cover of The Stooges' "Search and Destroy."
Escovedo told the crowd he didn't simply want an American band, but musicians who sounded different. He got that with saxophonists Franz Valtieri and Gianni Perinelli, who also played clarinet on "Flying" and the keyboards and synth of Nicola Peruch. Escovedo made a smart move in choosing this band, which served him well.
Escovedo, 68, has gone through many musical iterations in his life from the punk of The Nuns to the rootsy sounds of The True Believers in Austin to roots rock on his own. He may never have been immensely popular (although sitting in with Bruce Springsteen before thousands in Houston to play "Always a Friend" in 2008 did give him a big boost), but that has never mattered. Escovedo may have been slowed down at one point by hepatitis C, but that was long ago at this point too
What does matter is that with a little help from his new-found friends, Escovedo has his creative juices flowing, embracing difficult subjects along the way.