Sunday, August 9, 2009

Zoo Brings Out the "Real Animal" in Escovedo

Someone unfamiliar with the subject matter probably would not have known what to expect out of Alejandro Escovedo's performance at the Minnesota Zoo's amphitheater last night, Saturday August 8, 2009. Most people who pay any attention to real music in this country have heard the mercurial story of Alejandro's journey to the edge of music's and life's boundaries with bands like the Nuns and Rank and File, how he leaned over the abyss, spit into it and came back. Much like the fabled bird of fiction, the phoenix, Escovedo rose from the ashes of serious illness which had cut him down in Arizona. But just like the true believer son of a prizefighter that he is, Escovedo has battled back to the point of "Real Animal" a reflective mixture of his history as an artist as well as somewhat of an homage to one of his big inspirations, the little, godfather of punk himself, Iggy Pop.

Did I say homage? The music on "Real Animal" is like its inspiration in many ways, bare and open for all to see, like Iggy's chest, with broken beer bottles cuts and blood dripping from its wounds. From the autobiographical tale of living next to Sid and Nancy in the "Chelsea Hotel" to the stark beauty of "Sister Lost Soul" Escovedo has crafted another in his long list of musical tour de forces. Now, to someone hearing about Alejandro for the first time, this would make no sense. No, it makes perfect sense.

My first glimpse of Alejandro on Saturday night, a night so warm and humid that Escovedo quipped that he felt like he was in Thailand, came on the side of the stage. With about three songs left in the set of the opening act, Romantica, Alejandro and his entire band, all four of them, came stage-side to check out several songs from this impressive, up and coming local band. Lead singer Ben Kyle, guitarist and pedal steel player Luke Jacobs, drummer James Orvis, and bassist and old Grumpy's pal, Tony Zaccardi turned in a performance such that Alejandro pronounced towards the end of his show: "I've played with alot of bands over the years; some good, some not so good and Romantica is definitely one of the good ones" and then invited Romantica's Kyle onstage for a raucous, call and response refrain ala Mick and Spleef during "Beast of Burden" replete with audience participation.

But I'm getting way ahead of my self. My son August and I had arrived early, around 5:30 PM as a matter of fact, with plans on catching a quick tour of the Minnesota Zoo's much acclaimed Grizzly Coast exhibition. As the Zoo closes at 6 PM and supposedly does not reopen until 6:30 PM for the concert, we were on a mission, you might say. You see our other plan was to attempt an intervention and rescue my friend and co-worker Esmond from what can only be described as the zoo's version of the bad acid at Woodstock, the Harry Potter Movie being shown at the zoo's IMAX theater. For a guy who supposedly likes good music, the choice here seemed a no brainer: catch the best live music in this year's summer season at a beautiful and great sounding venue or get your feet stuck to the floor and possibly catch the swine flu from the grotty little brats watching some pre-adolescent bore-fest.

Unfortunately my attempt at bringing Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers to cultural matters was unsuccessful despite repeated attempts at locating poor Esmond, even including checking out the Imax Theater Men's (Boy's) Room (I had drank several beers after arriving in the zoo parking lot in that time-honored Minnesota tradition: tailgating). After coming up dry on our attempt to rescue my co-worker it was off to Siberia. Much like the salmon swimming upstream in the Grizzly's faux Siberian river, August and I fought against the stream of leaving zoo patrons until we were all alone in large sections of the zoo. This enabled me to light up and partially enjoy my obligatory (Bob Enos) cigar I take to every live music event (to remind me of my good friend who is not forgotten) while gawking at the tigers and bears, oh my.

Between sets August and I met a cool, fellow music fan, Margaret, who we shared the story of the etiology of August's name and she remembered with us a heart wrenching story of her favorite, kid brother who died in a motorcycle accident over one year ago. We would run into Margaret later that evening as Dad searched for the car (which had apparently been moved by the same character who over-served me those Summit Red and Extra Pale Ales that were going down so smoothly in the August heat and humidity). But just as Margaret was starting to say something I hear the power chords opening of Alejandro's closest thing to a hit single, "Always a Friend" and it was off to the races for our seats. In a role reversal of epic proportions, I was reduced to fist pumping, lyric mouthing adolescence while my son looked over with one eye askance, as if to say "You're not going to embarrass me...again!" "You damn right", I think to myself.

After this point, the evening becomes a blur, or more appropriately, like the hallucinatory montage sequence in Apocalypse Now but to the strains of a better soundtrack. From the aforementioned "Chelsea Hotel"(which made no sense or perfect sense) to the semi-autobiographical cover, "Everybody Loves Me", but I know why. One of the big reasons why is the always excellent side men and women Escovedo brings with him. This particular evening had Alejandro playing as a rock quartet backed by David Pulkingham on lead guitar, a fantastic bassist from Alabama and last but not least, the master of thunder, lord of the thighs, Hector Munoz, pound for pound the greatest drummer in the business this side of Michael Bland or say, Eric Gravat (that one's for Esmond).

Mix in some old gems from By the Hand of the Father, my personal favorite Rosalee and the now customary, welcome back to the line-up version of "Castanets" complete with the absolutely hysterical story of the song's inspiration (female concert promoter in Tampa), who bears no similarity to certain real persons either living or near dead, such as , say a late 1980's version of Keith Richards but certainly no resemblance whatsoever to our own erstwhile Sue Mclean, who deserves Diva status for continuing excellence in concert bookings. As tornadoes and damaging severe thunderstorms were ravaging towns and communities just to the west and north of us, we listened to the final strains of "Beast of Burden". Real music by real animals, just another night at the Minnesota Zoo.

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