Live review

Borderline Genius

Alejandro Escovedo

Uncut Presents... At The Borderline, London

WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 4 2002

Midway into his second-ever London performance—the hottest ticket in town after his rapturously received Barbican debut five days earlier—Escovedo dedicated a song to Dee Dee and Joey Ramone, Chet Atkins and Waylon Jennings.

Accompanied by a superb band—a mind-boggling mix of delicacy and outlandish swagger—he then played "I Love It When She Walks Away". He explained it was a composition about "falling for a girl with no sense of rhythm who moves to San Antonio to follow her dream to become a castanet player".

As you are reeling from the song's barely containable joyous and surreal abandon—cello sawing into a wild wiry synth, guitars blazing—you can't help stop and wonder, is there anything this 51-year-old hero can't do? A veteran of campaigns with Rank And File and The True Believers, as a solo artist Escovedo has staked out his musical territory for two decades. In the process, he's become an underground king, combining Dylan's grasp of musical history, Van Morrison's way with exile laments and Springsteen's vintage knack for narrative and monologue.

The range he covers is as wide as the Tex Mex and California borderlands where his ancestral song stories often take place, and as deep as the emotional torments unveiled in the harrowing "13 Years" (about his wife's suicide) or the poignant "Wave". The latter is a dizzying time-travelling wonder that recreates his grandfather's farewell to Mexico in the early 1900s.

Tonight, the packed house greeted his arrival on stage with hushed, respectful silence. The songs that opened, from his Tex Mex musical By The Hand Of The Father, were poignant distillations of family history; the stately cello-centred arrangements recalling post-Velvets Cale classicism. The way "Wave" segued into "Five Hearts Breaking" shone with the sanctifying glow of The Who in their raging, spiritual glory. A wondrously eerie interpretation of The Gun Club's "Sex Beat" simply sounded like a previously unacknowledged pinnacle of rock legend—an effortless blend of cliffhanging interplay and daredevil dramatics.

Then came the demonic howling and scowling "Burn My Clothes", a beautifully spare and aching Townes Van Zandt salute, "Follow You Down", and an encore which revelled in his past.

Escovedo didn't start writing until he was 30, and covers of Mott The Hoople, Iggy Pop, Neil Young and David Bowie classics showed how he'd served an apprenticeship mining garage-band gold, but, crucially, always bringing more to the party than he took away.

He is quite simply a colossal talent, a missing part of the rock'n'roll tapestry ready to take his rightful place among the greats. And—praise the skies and pass the moonshine—he's coming back here in April! Don't miss out.


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