Alejandro Escovedo and a Touch of Italy

IMG_6510“Are you ready for some romantic Italian music?” guitarist Antonio Gramentieri calls out to the audience.

Well, honestly, no.

The crowd at City Winery was actually there for the more Tex-Mex flavored ballads and rockers from longtime songwriter Alejandro Escovedo, who has toured with all kinds of configurations over the years, from bands to duos to solo. But wanting to hire a band to back him on a European tour two years ago, he ran into an outfit from a small town near the Italian alps, Don Antonio.

Not only did they manage to bring a full sound to back Escovedo’s songs, they helped inspire his new album The Crossing. Where once it might have been the story of a Mexican-born kid hitchhiking his way from Mexico to an L.A. amid the punk boom, now it’sabout a trip by Diego and Salvo, who meet while working at Salvo’s uncle’s Italian restaurant in Galveston. The two share a love of punk rock, beat writers, and filmmakers like Antonioni.

And they go off to L.A., “looking for an America they both believe exists,” Escovedo explains. So while it’s not exactly about immigration, he goes on, and more about two kids going after something better, there a number of insights about the issue, as he notes Southern Italy has its own immigration from the African countries south of it.

Escovedo by now has accomplished a lot, produced a lot of great music and even beaten cancer (he shows a PSA to raise the issue); concept albums come to him now fully formed. And as a performer who has enjoyed collaboration with other, the international alliance suits him well.

Also, it gives a European band a new life in the states. Don Antonio, a sextet that depends on a dual sound of sweet saxes, opened the show with their instrumental music, approaching light jazz in parts. Gramentieri said it would be silly for them to try to approximate American rock ’n’ roll, which he described as all edges, while their own music has more curves.

And yet, that’s largely whet the group is called to do in Escovedo’s headlining set. Following the place-setting ballads that start the show with deep remembrances of family, “Footsteps in the Shadows” and “Texas is My Mother,” it’s all hard charging rock to songs like “Teenage Luggage” where he’s “looking for America in a record shop.” It’s a natural lead to his old “Castanets.”

On “Outlaw for You,” he shouted out heroes from the Stooges to Johnny Thunders. He even added “I’ll be Beto O’Rourke for you!” in the chorus.

He says he tried to keep today’s obvious politics from dominating the record, but sometimes it couldn’t keep from seeping in from the exhortation “the government lies, children die” on “Something Blue” to the incendiary “Fury and Fire,” on which he yells “call us rapists, go and build a bigger wall, we’re gonna tear it down.”

The reliance on songs from “The Crossing” meant only a few songs from Escovedo’s deep catalog, though he found time for “Sensitive Boys” and “Always a Friend” to cap the main set, segueing into a smorgasbord of genre influences from the Motown of “Tracks of My Tears” to the reggae of “Lively Up Yourself.”

Escovedo doesn’t just recall his heroes, he brings them in, so Joe Ely, who shared a stage with Alejandro on the same stage just last August, is on the album as are Wayne Kramer of the Mc5 and James Williamson of the Stooges. He points out that Peter Perrett and John Perry from the British group The Only Ones reunited for their first recording in decades to play on the track “Waiting for Me.” So for further homage, he closed the surprising and rewarding show with another surprise: a cover of The Only Ones’ classic “Another Girl, Another Planet.”

 

The setlist for Alejandro Escovedo and Don Antonio Tuesday was: 

  • “Footsteps in the Shadows”
  • “Texas is My Mother”
  • “Teenage Luggage”
  • “Castanets”
  • “Outlaw for You”
  • “Something Blue”
  • “Waiting for Me”
  • “Overloaded”
  • “Flying”
  • “Sensitive Boys”
  • “Fury and Fire”
  • “Amor Puro”
  • “Sonica USA”
  • “Always a Friend” / “Tracks of My Tears” / “Lively Up Yourself”
  • “Sally Was a Cop”
  • “Another Day, Another Planet”
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