Alejandro Escovedo's Revival Meeting

Alejandro Escovedo's blistering 9:30 club set paid homage to his 1970s punk roots.
Alejandro Escovedo's blistering 9:30 club set paid homage to his 1970s punk roots. (By Mary Altaffer -- Associated Press)
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Monday, July 14, 2008

Texas punk/alt-country survivor Alejandro Escovedo is the kind of musician who instantly sorts the geeks from the civilians: Either you admire him (and you've got a box full of No Depression magazine back issues, and you know the bit rate at which your music files are encoded) or you've never heard of him (Maroon 5 fans, Wal-Mart CD shoppers, etc.). But he's also the kind of performer who -- even after an excruciating course of protein therapy for hepatitis C a few years back -- wields the power of instant conversion. If you witnessed a set like his muscular but supple 90-minute throw-down at the 9:30 club on Saturday (a quickie, by his standards, but the club had another show booked afterward) and managed not to walk out a true believer, then you probably need some protein therapy.

Singer/guitarist Escovedo perfectly balanced aggression and control, seizing command with the slow-burning opener, "Put You Down," before turning to his superb "Real Animal" album, a love letter to the '70s punk scene where his career began. He just opened some dates for Dave Matthews, who could learn a lot from the way Escovedo uses Susan Voelz's violin and Brian Standefer's cello to add mystery and depth to tunes such as "Everybody Loves Me." David Pulkingham's subtle nylon-string guitar work shaded "Rosalie" with a haunting Dust Bowl beauty before the set kicked subtlety to the curb.

When Escovedo's dedication of "Real Animal" to one James Osterberg (a.k.a. Iggy Pop) failed to produce the expected roar, he bashed out the tune anyway, then slammed the main set shut with the barn-burning "Castanets" -- reinstated to his set list, he said, after a spell in the penalty box for showing up on the decider-in-chief's iPod.

For the encore, Escovedo covered Bowie by way of his beloved Mott the Hoople before letting Voelz shine again on a gloriously ramshackle "Beast of Burden." Music in the '70s wasn't nearly as bad as people say. And Escovedo is even better than you've heard.

-- Chris Klimek

© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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