The rock and camaraderie of Alejandro Escovedo's July 21st show at Bowery Electric in New York, a half-block north of what used to be CBGB, would have been right at home in that old gone room. Escovedo, who had taped an appearance on Late Show With David Letterman earlier in the day, was promoting his new album, Street Songs of Love, backed by his current road group the Sensitive Boys. The concert was presented by "Anything, Anything," a weekly free-form program on New York's WRXP. (The show, hosted by Rich Russo, airs Sundays at 9 p.m.)
But for this night, Escovedo — who has four decades of fellow travelers and parallel souls to draw from, going back to his days in the San Francisco punk band the Nuns — put together a revue of old mates and newer friends to sing and play the current material. The tiny stage made for an amusing crush — guitarist Ivan Julian, once of Richard Hell's Voidoids, soloing on "This Bed Is Getting Crowded," seemed dangerously close to spearing Escovedo in the head with the neck of his instrument — and some guest singers, like Garland Jeffreys in "Faith," needed crib sheets. (He didn't need them for long; he soon threw 'em into the crowd.)
But Escovedo freely shared the lead vocals and spotlight, and everyone who joined him either knew the Bowery the way it was — Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators took the wheels for a cover of the Rivieras' "California Sun"; singer Jesse Malin held up his half of Escovedo's "The Anchor" with a punk-urchin hat and hardcore-matinee bravado — or sang like they wish they had. The Texan singer Amy Cook shared the mike with Escovedo for "Silver Cloud" like a brassier, dusty Deborah Harry.
Street Songs of Love — the fantastic follow-up to Escovedo's 2008 autobiographical masterpiece, Real Animal, and a sureshot for my 10-best list this year — is a record of straight-up rock songs and after-midnight ballads about the complexities of love and passing time. On the album, Escovedo sings "Down in the Bowery" — a reflection of his own life there in the Seventies and what he took with him, in memories and ideals, when he moved on — with his idol, the British glam-Dylan Ian Hunter. At Bowery Electric, Escovedo's producer, Tony Visconti (who was present at the birth of glam with David Bowie and T. Rex) played acoustic guitar; James Mastro, from Hunter's band, sang and picked mandolin. The result was a little less celebrity, but equally warm effect — an intimate reminder that the past isn't always baggage.
Other guests included Escovedo's Chicago pal, singer-guitarist Nicholas Tremulis, and singer Fiona McBain of the group Ollabelle, who draped some country Nico around Escovedo in "After the Meteor Showers." After Jeffreys took his mike and the gig deep into the crowd for "Faith," Escovedo called it a night, swearing the cast didn't know any more songs, then couldn't help himself, calling everyone down for covers of the Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden" and Mott the Hoople's "All the Young Dudes." Then he, his band and a big chunk of the audience went to the upstairs bar to watch the Letterman appearance. Outside, the Bowery seemed a little less foreign, a little more like home.