Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Alejandro Escovedo's "Lust for Life": Real Animal

Austin, Texas isn’t known as the “live music capital of the world” for nothing, and you don't need a SxSW wristband to partake. On any given weeknight, a live music addict wandering 6th Street or South Congress can step through the nearest pub door and find a quick fix of blistering rock and roll-- one-off live shows that would shame more anticipated and choreographed productions taking place only on weekends in other cities.

Even by Austin’s standards, though, Tuesday nights in particular must seem a bit special of late. Beginning last year and continuing through January, Austin's Alejandro Escovedo (link) took up a Tuesday night residency at the famed Continental Club. Listening to the concerts, Escovedo and his band (his frequent mix of string quartet and buzz-saw guitars) sound muscular, confident, and ready to take to the road.

Of all of the residency shows, however, none were more anticipated than a special show last Friday night, when Escovedo and singer-songwriter Chuck Prophet debuted material from their highly-anticipated release, Real Animal. Real Animal, an album of songs reflecting on Escovedo’s life, including the title track, a tribute to one of his biggest influences, Iggy Pop, is slated for release in June. In fact, last Tuesday's show not only “debuted material,” but, following a set by Prophet and his band (touring behind Prophet’s 2007 release Soap and Water), Escovedo, Prophet, and band roared through through Real Animal in its entirety, track-by-track, in order.

Escovedo is no longer by any means Austin’s Best Kept Secret, but for an artist's artist with a rock and roll c.v. reaching back to the 70’s (see here) and a catalog of stunning solo work, neither is he the household name that he should be. Enter Real Animal, a work that, even in its rough live version, gives promise of appeal to more than just the SxSW faithful: a highly autobiographical work touching on the various phases of Alejandro’s colorful rock life, set to music of the very time it describes.

Standout tracks include the opener, “Always a Friend,” in which Escovedo repeatedly begs a lover to “let yourself go, let yourself show.” The chorus is punctuated with “Oh-oh Oh-oh”’s lifted directly (and presumably intentionally) from David Bowie’s "TVC15," and the song sounds as though it could have come from that same era.

The balance of the record skips across All Things Escovedo—a stint at NYC’s artist-haunt the Chelsea is chronicled in “Chelsea Hotel,” wherein Escovedo, recalling life immersed in the artist community, observes, “We came to live inside the myth of everything we heard.” History is laid out clearly in “Sensitive Boys,” a track about the punk/glam scene where “nothin’s ever what it seems,” and “Nun’s Song,” wherein guitars pound along over a foundation of orchestral strings, as Escovedo chronicles the Nuns, one of his first bands that met with “a touch of fame.” In “Chip and Tony,” Escovedo reaches all the way back to his start in Rank & File, shouting, “All I ever wanted was a four piece band!”

This live set portends a full studio production rife with harmonies, dueling guitars (the listener is reminded, Prophet can play!), and classic rock vocal fills, thereby matching musical theme to the story. The timing of its release may coincide closely with an upcoming live music documentary about Escovedo’s life and work. Scheduled to be shot in Austin’s Las Manitas restaurant by Jonathan Demme, who’s resume includes such concert films as Stop Making Sense, Storefront Hitchcock, and Neil Young: Heart of Gold, the film will likely debut in Austin prior to a wider release.

Escovedo’s story has been highly visible in the media in the past couple of years, spurred largely by the release of 2006’s critically-acclaimed The Boxing Mirror, in which Escovedo dealt with his mortality in the wake of a serious health diagnosis. Real Animal will give the public the entire bio, a life inspired by Iggy, whom Escovedo refers to in his introduction of the title track as “a big influence on my life . . . and I’ve paid for it every day since.”


Don said...

Enjoyed your article and looking forward to hearing the new record by Alejandro. Thanks for the preview. > Don

Nan said...

Thanks so much for the "preview" of AE's upcoming and highly anticipated "Real Animal". It simply can't get here fast enough for this humble/rabid Escovedo devotee! The rockumentry, I'm sure, will be brilliant - and is also very anticipated. This musician songwriter is a master in every sense.

Nan in Vermont