Alejandro Escovedo @ Turner Hall Ballroom
April 9, 2009
Much has been made about Alejandro Escovedo's battle with hepatitis C and how the disease almost took his life in 2003. In fact, it seems that the singer-songwriter's bout with illness often threatens to overshadow his work, as fans and music critics alike seem intent on viewing his body of work through the spectrum of sickness. It is quite difficult to argue with such an assessment (there is little doubt that Escovedo's illness did influence his work), but it may be time to put to rest the obligatory reference to his near-death experience.
And it seems like Escovedo himself is intent on helping this process along. Looking healthy-and with his voice sounding world-weary but incredibly strong-Escovedo tore through a set that spanned his nearly 30-year career before a packed Turner Hall Ballroom. Backed only by David Pulkingham on guitar and Wauwatosa native Susan Voelz on violin, Escovedo approached his material with a passion and vibrancy that befit an artist half his age. Songs such as "Always a Friend," "Castanets" (which Escovedo has now reclaimed from former President Bush, who once admitted he had a version of the song on his iPod) and "Everybody Loves Me" absolutely rocked, as Escovedo's backing band conjured up quite a racket for just two people. Voelz emerged as Escovedo's secret weapon, as her playing, particularly on the band's frenetic take of "Everybody Loves Me," allowed Escovedo to escape the more predictable aspects of acoustic performances.
Yet the songs that seemed to resonate most emotionally for Escovedo were those that touched upon the theme of the importance-and fragility-of family. Through stunning renditions of such songs as "Rosalie," "I Wish I Was Your Mother" (which featured some beautiful harmonizing between Escovedo, Pulkingham and Voelz) and "Sister Lost Soul," Escovedo moved stories of familial relationships from the commonplace to the sublime. As Escovedo mournfully pleaded, "Sister lost soul, brother lost soul/I need you," one could not help but remember lost relatives and frayed relationships. It was a powerful moment, and one that wonderfully captured why Escovedo remains relevant.