Saturday Night: Alejandro Escovedo at the Continental Club
It always makes me a little nervous when an artist opens with a true favorite right out of the gate, something you were expecting them to save until the encore. Like, "Well, that was the song I came to hear. Now what?"
As a fan, I imagine it would be like hitting a hole in one on the first tee, or maybe winning the lottery your first time scratching off a ticket. Or maybe nothing quite so dramatic, but it's still pretty cool.
Saturday night at the Continental Club, with a lean 80-minute set that felt like about 40, Alejandro Escovedo & the Sensitive Boys opened with "Castanets," one of his real ringers, with a whanging riff a little like Chuck Berry in overdrive and a little like a car alarm, and killer refrain about a woman he'd rather forget: "I like her better when she walks away." So then what?
It's hard to sustain a "Castanets" kind of momentum across an entire set, but Escovedo and crew didn't downshift much after the opening bell. The moodier "Arizona" and recent "Anchor," from 2010's Street Songs of Love, followed in short order, both prime examples of the third gear his songs have that so many rock songs lack. Escovedo excels at dropping in an extra change toward the end that really drives the song home with a sort of sunburst effect.
They dipped back to 2001's A Man Under the Influence (same record as "Castanets") for "Wave," beginning a mini-section of the show highlighted by Ricky Ray Jackson's ghostly, haunting pedal steel work. It continued through "San Antonio Rain," finally reaching last year's Big Station, and "Follow You Down," which Escovedo introduced as being for Townes Van Zandt and was appropriately somber. Pretty, pretty stuff.
But by "Man of the World," the Sensitive Boys -- also bassist Bobby Daniel and drummer Chris Searles, who has been behind the kit for Escovedo for some 20 years now -- it was back to full-bore, pharmaceutical-grade rock and roll that didn't let up much the rest of the way. The snarling riff of "Chelsea Hotel '78" made the man next to both of us, whom we had never seen before, turn to my friend and exclaim, "Damn!"
Not much else to add there, except maybe an underline, and to mention that it got even ruder and more rockin' afterward, with the band digging into both the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and a real plum from the Escovedo catalog, "Pyramid of Tears" from 1992's Gravity. Shame you had to miss it, if in fact you did.
Personal Bias: I think the entire planet, and especially Texas, is vastly improved by Escovedo's being here.
The Crowd: About 200 of Houston's most discerning music fans. An older crowd.
Overheard In the Crowd: "He's not taking any prisoners tonight" -- after the third song, the garage-rock rave-up "Tender Heart." I considered folding up my notebook right then and there; couldn't have said it better myself.
Random Notebook Dump: Lots of maracas onstage, but no actual castanets.