Alejandro Escovedo Closes Roots Rock Series at Landmark

Double bill featuring Jesse Malin and The St. Marks Social

alejandro-escovedo-v2-4b3c0f0e88731792a81edbb05f8816a1The Landmark’s 2010-2011 season may be slowly winding to a close, but the shows have only been increasing in energy and amplitude. Such was the case on Friday, April 29, when the final show in Landmark’s Roots Rock series took place. The show was originally to have been just Alejandro Escovedo and his band, The Sensitive Boys, but Landmark’s executive director, Sharon Maier-Kennelly, decided to add Jesse Malin to the bill a few months ago, providing the audience with double their money’s worth, and close to three hours of music.

First on stage was Jesse Malin and his band, The St. Marks Social. Unlike many bands that start slow and build up to a crescendo, Malin’s band pretty much exploded onto the stage immediately in a blizzard of sound.

The five piece band included Malin on vocals and guitar, Johnny Martin on bass, Ty Smith on drums, Derek Cruz on keyboards and percussion, and Todd Youth (looking reminiscent of Severus Snape of Harry Potter movie fame) on lead guitar. Clad in black skinny jeans, and with at least four of the members sporting dyed black hair, the band projected a punk rock aura akin to Green Day, or Malin’s heroes, The Ramones.

High volume, high energy and playing with great seriousness, the band launched into “Cigarettes and Violets,” from Malin’s 2003 solo CD, “The Fine Art of Self-Destruction,” followed by “Burning the Bowery” from their latest album,”Love It to Life.” The band’s hard rocking sound was clearly influenced by 1970s punk, and the enthusiastic performance wasn’t lessened by the fact that half the band members were chewing gum throughout their set. My personal favorite song of the set was “Riding on the Subway,” with its excellent percussion created by the dual drumming of Cruz and Smith. Another highlight was Malin’s rambunctious cover of John Lennon’s “Instant Karma,” the closing song of the set.

Alejandro Escovedo may not be a staple of mainstream radio but he has an extremely strong following – which is why his concert was one of the first to sell out this season. Tall and fit, sporting tight jeans and red alligator skin boots, Escovedo cut a fine form for someone who has been in the music business as long as he has. He is an excellent guitarist, perfectly capable of handling solos, but was extremely gracious and complimentary to his equally extraordinary guitarist, David Pulkingham – commending his playing often and heartily. Pulkingham is an extraordinarily talented musician who incorporated synthesized sounds into his guitar work, reminiscent of the very tasteful work of Gerry Leonard, who played guitar with both Suzanne Vega and Duncan Sheik during their performances at Landmark in previous seasons. Pulkingham could play both fast power rock solos, and elegant accompaniment, and make it look effortless. All of Escovedo’s band members were outstanding musicians, and together they formed a band with a tight, cohesive sound that rocked the house. Aside from Pulkingham, the band also included Hector Munoz on drums and Bobby Daniel on bass.

Escovedo is a gracious performer – thanking the audience, thanking his opening act, thanking his band members – while giving the audience his all. Between songs, he regaled the crowd with tales of his musical family (including niece, Shiela E. from Prince’s band), his father’s immigration from Mexico, and his influences. His performance was at times bold and rocking, and at times intimate – he and Pulkingham jumped into the audience to play, unplugged, some songs from his theatrical song cycle, “By the Hand of the Father.” Those songs, “Juarez” and “Rosalie” were both touching and personal, and had the audience feeling as though they were being serenaded in their living room.

There were hints of both country and punk in Escovedo’s sizzling performance, along with hints of mainstream, Bruce Springsteen-like rock. Standouts of the more rocking songs included “Castanets” with the catchy chorus “I like her better when she walks away,” and “Chelsea Hotel ‘78” with the call and response “It makes no sense” and “It makes perfect sense.” Escovedo had the audience singing along – and this was early in the show. “Down in the Bowery” from Escovedo’s latest CD, was written for Escovedo’s son. “I hope you live long enough to forget half the stuff they taught you,” sang Escovedo. The song, filled with fatherly advice, reminded me of a musical version of Polonius’ advice to his son Laertes, in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

For the encore, Escovedo was joined onstage by all five members of Jesse Malin’s band, and Malin and Escovedo shared the microphone for several songs, including a cover of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” and, my favorite, an absolutely phenomenal cover of The Rolling Stones “Miss You.” Malin actually sounds remarkably like Mick Jagger. Escovedo and Malin clearly put their all into the performance and held nothing back, and the audience, on its feet and dancing, clearly appreciated that.

This was the final performance of the marvelous Roots Rock series, which also included Raul Malo, David Bromberg, Diane Birch, and The Smithereens. Next in the Fabulous Folk series will be Suzzy and Maggie Roche with special guest Julie Gold on May 14.