Live Review: Alejandro Escovedo & Joe Ely at Dakota Jazz Club
Alejandro Escovedo, at 63 years old, is still the coolest guy in roots rock. Watching him play a songwriter in the round set at the Dakota with fellow Texas songwriter Joe Ely, he reminded me of David Bowie – thin, polished, cooler than cool. Ely and Escovedo, backed by violin and vocal ace Susan Voelz, traded songs and stories while sitting on stools and strumming acoustic guitars.
Part of what’s alluring about artists like Escovedo is the power beneath the polish. Even when sitting on a stool and strumming an acoustic guitar, you can tell he can shine in almost any context – fronting a punk band like The Nuns, putting out a softer-edge set of songs on an album like 2002’s “By The Hand of the Father,” and putting out solid roots rock albums like 2010’s “Street Songs of Love.” He’s just a badass.
Where Escovedo is cool and aloof, Ely was earnest and earthy. I’ve always respected Joe Ely as a songwriter, but listening to him live and hearing his stories about the Texas music scene he helped to create and promote, you realize he’s a great guy who writes honest songs.
The structure of the songwriter in the round style concert is weird – one guy sings while the other sits there, listening to him like he’s in the audience. The next singer builds off of the first singer’s ideas, and pulls a song from his repertoire that matches or advances the mood. The themes Escovedo and Ely explored centered around family and the experience of immigrants, featuring Escovedo’s “Swallows of San Juan” and Ely’s “Homeland Refugee.”
Both Ely and Escovedo are master songwriters – their lyrics are clear and their melodies fly like arrows. The stories they traded, though, were the highlights of the night. Alejandro shared anecdotes about his first tour with The Nuns, saying, “we booked a seven week tour with seven gigs. We left New York with fifty dollars and a bag of pot.” Ely replied, “you were rich!” Ely told stories about Texas music luminaries like R.C. Brooks and Billy Joe Shaver that made us all feel like we were old friends.
After what seemed like a too-short set (each artist played 7 or so songs), Ely and Escovedo got the Dakota crowd to sing along to their closer, Woody Guthrie’s “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad.” It seemed like we were sitting around a campfire, swapping songs and stories with the coolest roots band in the world.
Photo and Review by Atom Robinson (@atomrobinson)