Friday, June 16, 2017

Alejandro Escovedo Band Gives Most Satisfying Twin Cites Performance To Date

Having experienced numerous Alejandro Escovedo shows dating back to a show at the 400 Bar in Minneapolis a couple decades ago, and countless other local venues including 7th Street Entry, Turf Club, Fine Line, MN Zoo and at least 4 times at the Dakota Jazz Bar as well as traveling to the High Noon Saloon in Madison I have witnessed many great shows.  Why else would I keep going?  I certainly am not rich and shows at the Dakota aren’t exactly moderately priced for the working class, but with Alejandro you always get what you paid for and some nights, like last Saturday’s show at the Dakota, you get more.  Much more.
Fresh off the European leg of the “Burn Something Beautiful” tour where they played something like 35 shows in 42 days, the latest incarnation of the Alejandro Escovedo Band was in peak form. One of the reasons I find Escovedo so compelling is he always has the best musicians supporting him and with Austin Texas as your farm team league, to use a baseball analogy, it is not surprising.  However, as fond as I am of Hector, Bobby, David and all of the other great players I have been privileged to witness over the years, there is something about last Saturday night’s performance that makes the current cast of,  Scott Laningham: on drums, Nick Diaz: on guitar and Aaron McClellan: on bass, stand out.  Not to take anything away from Scott and Aaron who were excellent, but Diaz’s guitar work blew me away with his tone, precision and economy of notes all with the ease and grace of say a Denny Freeman.
Even more impressive about Diaz’s playing was it was always about the song and complimenting the songwriting and when you are performing with one of America’s greatest living songwriters, it’s all about the song and he gets it.  Diaz and Alejandro worked beautifully together and at times they and the band hit that eargasmic sweet spot that is so rare but is the drug that musicians and audiences live for.

The show opened to Escovedo and band taking the stage to no applause which caused the formerly, at times, caustic one, to make a sarcastic quip right before launching in to the most menacing and best version of “Can’t Make Me Run” these ears have heard.  Back in November of last year (2016) I caught just the second live performance of a different incarnation of the Alejandro Escovedo band (only the bass player was a holdover).  Although I thought the previous version of the band had done quite well playing such tough material on little rehearsal, it was apparent from the very first song that the current lineup were really a band, firing on all cylinders.
The strong opening was followed by an equally strong “Dear Head on the Wall” which I used to assume (incorrectly) was about the Club Tavern outside Madison, WI.  This would be the first of two songs off the Boxing Mirror cd which signaled Escovedo’s return from the illness that nearly killed him.
The first selection off his latest work, the wonderful “Burn Something Beautiful” cd, was “Shave the Cat”, a crowd favorite.  A fun rocker, Shave is destined to become a staple at wrestling practices and full-service hair salons well into the new millennia.
The good vibe was kept going by the next number, one off his “Man Under the Influence” cd on Bloodshot records.  The ever grateful and humble AE thanked the label for backing this project, a milestone in his career and which he credits with bringing in a new fan base.  What followed was worth the price of admission alone and for all of you who took a flyer on this show (you know who you are, bro) you missed a rare live performance of one of his gems, “Rhapsody”.  The best part was, for a song he never performs live, he nailed it and much of the kudos goes to the wonderful band.  If you had not figured it out up to now there was no way you could miss the fact that you were witnessing something very special after the stunning performance of “Rhapsody”.
Continuing with another off of “Man under the Influence” was the achingly plaintive “Don’t Need You”. 

About this time, as the band was switching over to do the acoustic portion of the show, the only miscue all night occurred and it wasn’t a big deal.  Just a little feedback which took a couple seconds to correct, nevertheless Alejandro did not let the opportunity to try his hand at stand up go by, cracking “that was the Brian Eno portion of our set”.  When you’re hot you’re hot and these cats were on fire.
The acoustic set had the band seated toward the front of the stage including drummer Scott Laningham who traded his full drum kit in for a one-man band setup.  No matter, whether bashing on his big kit or providing subtle nuances perfect for the acoustic numbers, Scott’s expressive drumming was vital to setting the range of moods and shades of music on Escovedo’s songs.  The career retrospective mini set of Five Hearts Breaking, Wave, Suite of Light and Rosalee had the intimate feel of a living room and the relaxed staging paid off.  This was when the band really jelled and played so perfectly together it was as if they were controlled by one mind.  At times the music they were making sounded so beautiful, so exquisite you had to pinch yourself to come back down to earth.
Plugging back in for the electric final segment of the night started off with the slow burn “Sally was a Cop” followed by a deep dive in his catalog to “Crooked Frame”.  Next up was a spirited version of “Break This Time” which first appeared as Alejandro’s sole performing contribution on the tribute/benefit project “Por Vida” and later on “Boxing Mirror”.  The series of songs culminated with a raucous version of “Castanets” that had Escovedo and Diaz exchanging blistering guitar leads with Escovedo hopping up and down and doing windmill guitar strokes ala Townsend circa Maximum R n B era.

A night of surprises and memorable performances was not over yet as the audience brought Escovedo and company back for two more encores, a mesmerizing rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Alexandra’s Leaving” followed by one of my personal favorites off the "Burn Something Beautiful", "Johnny Volume".

The Alejandro Escovedo Band’s performance at the Dakota Jazz Bar in Minneapolis last Saturday night was magical.  A masterful example of pacing and set list selection covering almost all periods of an incredibly rich and diverse career.  The band and Alejandro were in peak form thanks in part, no doubt, to a grueling schedule which allowed the band to get to know each other and the material, even if it was at the risk of exhaustion.  Despite the ravages of the road, Alejandro was in fine form, strong voice and good spirits. One would be remiss not to acknowledge his hidden but perhaps most important asset and ambassador of good will, his gracious partner and wife Nancy Rankin Escovedo.  Nancy has become a staple at his shows and her sweet kindness and sincerity in working the concession line is matched only by her talent as a photographer.  Follow her on twitter and/or Instagram not only to keep up with the band, but you will also be rewarded with some of the most creative examples of the art of photography found on the web.  The Alejandro Escovedo Band left the audience at the Dakota satiated from a thoroughly satisfying night of good food and great music.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Indiana Court of Appeals Rules Militarized Search Warrant Unreasonable and Inevitable Discovery Exception Not Applicable to State Constitutional Law

The pushback continues.  Add Indiana to the list of states where citizens are pushing back and courts are saying enough already with law enforcement's continued application of over the top military tactics and equipment in routine search warrant executions.  Just last week in Watkins v. State, Ind.App.January 06, 2017--- N.E.3d ---- the Indiana Court of Appeals added its voice to the growing chorus or jurists who think law enforcement has lost its perspective on how much force is appropriate when conducting routine drug search warrants.  For too long in this country law enforcement, flush with post-911 anti-terrorism money and programs where they can apply for  used military equipment from the armed services, have been adopting the tactics and acquiring increasingly lethal implements of war.  The problem then becomes they must justify the existence of the equipment with their use, on civilians, which is what they did in Watkins.

The facts in Watkins were  that police officers used military-style assault tactics to execute a search warrant on defendant's home.  The pre-raid surveillance failed to identify a nine month of baby in the residence despite baby seat and other child items in their line of sight.  Although the police did announce their presence, 2 seconds before using battering ram on door and then tossing flash bang grenade into front room that contained only nine-month old baby in playpen.

The Indiana Court of Appeals held the manner in which the warrant was carried out  was unreasonable under totality of circumstances, and thus violated the state constitutional prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures, even though there was a considerable degree of suspicion based on information from confidential informant regarding drugs and gun in home; extent of law enforcement needs for military-style assault was low and degree of intrusion was unreasonably high, particularly in light of deployment of flash bang grenade very close to baby.  However the mere recitation of the facts does not quite capture the flavor of the police officers mentality in the case.  Perhaps the following exchanges from the trial  transcript helps:

"...when asked if he recalled the criminal history of the occupants, he answered: “No I don't, I mean I think there was some sort of drug history and a violent act but I can't say for sure.” Id. at 51. He testified that he did not toss the flash bang into the residence but that “whoever is charged with ensuring that they deploy [a distraction] device is also charged with ensuring that they deploy it into a safe area” and that “you wouldn't want to throw it on any children, you wouldn't want to throw it if there was a meth lab, flammable's [sic], bond [sic] making materials, different things like that, so it is the job of the operator that's actually deploying the device to do the quick peek to check.” Id. at 63. He also acknowledged that the flash bang could catch a carpet on fire." Watkins at *4.

"Officer Taylor testified that he had been with SWAT for eight years and that before he deploys a flash bang and as the door is breached “there's a quick peek, a lot of things were [sic] looking for, people, kids, elderly, smells, and then it gets placed there at the threshold.” Id. at 66–67. When asked if he believed that he complied with the safety protocol, Officer Taylor testified: “Yes, even more so than our standards are.” Id. at 73. He also stated that the SWAT team carries a fire extinguisher." Emphasis added by this writer.

The state then argued that the evidence should still come in despite the unreasonable search in violation of the Indiana state constitution under the inevitable discovery doctrine.  

The court wrote "...the inevitable discovery exception has not been adopted as a matter of Indiana constitutional law. Ammons v. State, 770 N.E.2d 927, 935 (Ind.Ct.App.2002), trans. denied. The Indiana Supreme Court has held that “our state constitution mandates that the evidence found as a result of [an unconstitutional] search be suppressed.” Brown v. State, 653 N.E.2d 77, 80 (Ind.1995). See also Grier v. State, 868 N.E.2d 443, 445 (Ind.2007) (“Evidence obtained as a result of an unconstitutional search must be suppressed.”). Despite the State's request, we are not inclined to adopt the inevitable discovery rule as part of Indiana constitutional law in light of the Indiana Supreme Court's firm language. See Gyamfi v. State, 15 N.E.3d 1131, 1138 (Ind.Ct.App.2014) (declining to adopt the inevitable discovery rule as part of Indiana constitutional law in light of the Indiana Supreme Court's firm language in Brown ), reh'g denied; Ammons, 770 N.E.2d at 935."  Watkins, Supra at *9.

Clearly there is a growing disconnect between the public's and law enforcement's views as to reasonable force and the judicial branch is using the general unreasonableness in the way a search warrant is executed as a check upon executive branch excess (i.e. excessive use of force by law enforcement).