Alejandro Escovedo, The Strange Boys
Sons of Hermann Hall
June 4, 2009
Better than: Putting up with the crowds at the House of Blues for the Animal Collective show. (A review of that show should be up shortly)
It wasn't exactly an energetic start to the evening at Sons of Hermann Hall: There The Strange Boys were, performing their band's drug-addled brand of retro-rock on the venue's blue curtain-backed retro stage, and sounding great, too. But there the dancefloor was in the middle of the room, empty as could be, as the audience took to the seats surrounding its edges.
Perplexing? You bet. 'Cause, oddly enough, it sure seemed like the 60 or so folks in the crowd at this point--an older set, for the most part, granted--was really enjoying the performance. Proof of as much: When frontman Ryan Sambol announced that the next song would be his band's last, the crowd begged for two more. When he announced that, OK, he'd play two, they then asked for three.
But the crowd didn't get a third. Instead, before launching into what would turn out to be the second-to-last song of the night, Sambol pleaded with the audience: "Didn't you dance when you were younger?"
Fortunately, headliner Alejandro Escovedo let his guitar do his talking. At least at the start of his set.
With a few heavy licks and a Pete Townshend-esque flair, Escovedo ripped through some punk-inspired riffs, blazing through his opening numbers, one of which included the phenomenal "Always A Friend" from his impressive 2008 release, Real Animal. And the crowd, rose to its feet in response.
It was an impressive display, watching the 58-year-old performer rip through song after song with his talented backing band, capably wowing the audience with each performance, be it a slowed-down ballad, or an early punk track from his Nuns of True Believers days.
No, it didn't take very long at all for Escovedo to raise his audience out of its seats and onto the dancefloor. No surprise there, though, really: Fine Strange Boys performance or not, this crowd was indeed Escovedo's.
Of course, his near-Storytellers-like preambles before each song helped set the mood for the night, as Escovedo shared the stories behind each of his songs, deftly mixing in fits of laughter among the more heartfelt sentiments--like when he dedicated his song "Sister Lost Soul" to his recently fallen friend, Fort Worth musician Stephen Bruton.
Escovedo has seen it all in his time as a musician, and though his crowd at Sons barely topped 100 people last night, he captivated the attention of every audience member at the place, wowing them with punk, classic rock, pop rock and Tejano takes from across his discography while mixing in stories of his whirlwind year (performances on The Today Show, The Tonight Show, Late Night With Conan O'Brien, at the Democratic National Convention and, in Houston last year, alongside Bruce Springsteen), offering congratulations to a couple in the audience celebrating its five-year anniversary, and even having a back-and-forth (and a collabortation of sorts) with Deep Ellum mascot Bob.
And though he didn't need to--seeing Escovedo with such a small crowd is a treat in and of itself--he returned to the stage for a two-song encore of covers (Mott the Hoople's "All The Young Dudes" and The Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden") after an hour-and-a-half-long set.
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At this point, every couple in the room seemed to be dancing with each other. So much for age being a factor, The Strange Boys learned, no doubt, from the comfort of their merch table.
Personal Bias: I really dig both The Strange Boys and Escovedo--but this was the first time I'd seen Escovedo in person. Man, what a performer that guy is. Too bad the turnout was so low--for his sake. But, selfishly, yeah, it was nice to see such an intimate show.
By The Way: Catch The Strange Boys again in Denton tonight at Rubber Gloves, or again on July 10 at The Louge on Elm Street.
Random Note: In order to have Escovedo congratulate her friends on their anniversary, a crowd member handed Escovedo a note with their names in a $20 tip--somethign Escovedo flat-out refused. "At this point in my career," he laughed, "$20 is, like, nothing."