After giving Austin fans an early live look at close to half of his new album, Big Station, on Saturday, Alejandro Escovedo took a few minutes to deliver a sort of mini-memoir, recounting his boyhood travels from Texas to California ("I was the only Chicano surfer, and they didn’t like that") and New York City, and how he fell in love with rock & roll along those many miles. It was a poignant and relevant story to share, since Escovedo’s new album is about the journeys different people take in life, and how they intersect and affect each other.
Playing with a mostly new lineup of his band the Sensitive Boys in front of an adoring crowd at the Pachanga Latino Music Festival, Escovedo was in confident and comfortable form, debuting some of the Big Station songs live for the first time before heading out on tour for most of the rest of 2012. In marked contrast to his recent glossy, rollicking albums, Street Songs of Love and Real Animal, the new Tony Visconti-produced release is moody in many spots and restrained enough to give harrowing, somber songs room to breathe.
Show opener "Sally Was A Cop" is a perfect example of that departure, with a picked guitar opening and shuffling rhythm leading into the story of a proud Mexican border town native forced to become a fighter in the face of escalating drug trade violence. And the loose, sing-along chorus of "Bottom Of The World" gives pleasant cover to a workingman narrator looking out on a world that likely hasn’t changed for the better while he’s spent years punching a clock.
Joined by Austin singer-guitarist David Garza for a handful of new material – the all-Spanish "Sabor A Mi," "Common Mistake" and the yearning love song "Never Stood A Chance" – Escovedo reworked some of the songs from their album versions, rendering them even more introspective and making departures to explore new musical ideas on songs that he and his bandmates are still getting comfortable with in a live setting.
"It’s still daunting because a lot of them we’ve never played in front of people before," Escovedo said after the performance. "Some we’ve been playing for people for a while, like 'Sally Was A Cop,' and 'San Antonio Rain,' so we’re comfortable with those. But we’re not at the place that we were with 'Street Songs of Love.'"
Describing Big Station as an "outward looking album," Escovedo said he and songwriting partner Chuck Prophet were aiming for a varied sonic template similar to The Clash’s Sandinista!
"In a way it’s like Sandinista, where they were looking at lots of styles and rhythms, whether it was reggae or dub or Algerian or country and western," he said. "That’s always been our template because punk rock for us has been about having a vast record collection and championing the great stuff.
"I see [Big Station] as a journey, a place where we all go or come from, kind of a junction in some sort of voyage. Or, it also could have an idea of a big radio station blasting out all these great things that are celebratory and what we love about rock and roll."
"Sally Was A Cop"
"This Bed Is Getting Crowded"
"Bottom Of The World"
"San Antonio Rain"
"Sabor A Mi"
"Never Stood A Chance"
"Chelsea Hotel ‘78"