Punk Symphony

Alejandro Escovedo - Scott Miller

Old Town School - Chicago

[March 2, 2002 - Early Show]

First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2002, Volume 9, #4

Written by John Metzger


Anyone who frequented the dimly lit, smoke-filled San Francisco bars of the late ’70s might have seen Alejandro Escovedo bucking the establishment with punk rockers The Nuns. And then, one might have laughed at the notion that Escovedo would go on to become one of the finest singer/songwriters of his generation. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what happened, earning him the privilege of performing at one of America’s finest venues — Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music — on March 2.

A bit of punk attitude still swarms within Escovedo’s songs, and when the mood strikes him, he and his band can unleash a torrential assault. Witness the ferocious rendition of Everybody Loves Me where he and guitarist Bruce Salmon took turns trading leads over a violent rhythm. Or the edgy, electrified current that supercharged Castanets. Even more subdued numbers like Sometimes were submersed within a Velvet Underground-style of musical tension.

For the most part, however, Escovedo and his four-piece band — which also featured cellist and bass player Steve Bernard and percussionist Hector Muňoz — performed a stirring set of shimmering folk. Removed from the claustrophobic confines of an electric maelstrom, the songs were able to breathe, allowing Escovedo’s talent as a songwriter to bubble to the surface. Hope and sadness collided in the bittersweet symphony of Wave and then gave way to mourning on the solemn Five Hearts Breaking. Although Escovedo’s latest release A Man Under the Influence was certainly one of the best albums of last year as well as the finest outing of his lengthy career, one gets the feeling he’s just getting started.

Scott Miller opened the show, and nearly stole it out from under Escovedo’s feet with a brilliant solo acoustic set. Free from the trappings of an electric band, it was easy to see how a young songwriter like Miller could appeal to someone like Steve Earle or Alejandro Escovedo. His glimpses of life — whether they were historical as in The Rain or autobiographical as in Daddy Raised a Boy — were both heartfelt and moving. When woven together into a cohesive set, they painted a vivid portrait of rural America along the Virginia/West Virginia border.

Escovedo is one of the best songwriters of his era, but Miller is quickly becoming one of the top composers from the next generation.  Although Escovedo is in no way ready to pass the torch — nor should he be — one gets the sense that Miller may be ready at least to share it.

A Man under the Influence is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Thus Always to Tyrants is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Copyright © 2002 The Music Box