by James Gamble, Burlington Writers Workshop
In the case of Shelby Lynne, who opened the show with Alejandro Escovedo on the Flynn MainStage Saturday night, it’s with a voice of the gods. From the first note, she filled the theater with a powerful, sultry sound that said, “we’re goin’ for a ride and you’re gonna love it.” And by all accounts we did.
It was a ride that took us from a sweet country tune to a jangly pop number. She rocked the house, gave us the blues, preached some gospel, and got our Cajun on. And it all worked seamlessly.
My only disappointment was that Lynne’s performance ended a couple of songs too short for me. But that’s okay. As much as I enjoyed listening to her beautiful voice, I was antsy to see the legendary Alejandro Escovedo (whom I had never seen live before).
Escovedo took the stage with violinist Susan Voelz, who some may recognize from the alt-rock band Poi Dog Pondering. At first I was surprised by the pairing, but there are certainly plenty of notable rockers that mix in the gentler strings. And with an eclectic oeuvre like Escovedo’s, why not?
Wow, did it work!
While Escovedo started off with some trademark percussive strumming (albeit acoustic), Voelz wove in gracefully, just enough to round off the sharper corners of Escovedo’s guitar. It was a balance that carried through the night.
It’s easy to see why Escovedo is revered by so many great musicians. His stage presence and emotive vocals reminded me at times equally of Bruce Springsteen and David Hidalgo. His songwriting is impeccable—engaging story lines carried on tunes that ebb and flow. And what I liked most was that he never lost his rock edge. That’s not always so easy when doing an acoustic show.
At points, Escovedo clearly could have jumped off and jammed hard if he had been with the full electric band, yet he held it back just shy of the precipice—tamed by the instruments and the format. Kind of like Nirvana on MTV Unplugged. That tension kept me totally locked in.
There were some beautiful moments. The melodious Sister Lost Soul was notable. Sally Was A Cop was deeply stirring. Then to close the set, Escovedo asked to bring up the house lights, and he and Voelz stepped out from behind the microphones to grace us with a lovely rendition of Rosalie—up close and personal. They fully captured the crowd; however, during a quiet transition near the end of the song, the audience erupted prematurely. A consummate professional, Escovedo went with the flow and graciously accepted the standing ovation.
It’s been pointed out a number of times during the weeks leading up to this show that Escovedo is a performer not to be missed. He certainly proved that Saturday night—and he left me wanting more. I can only hope that he comes around again before too long. In the meantime, he’s become a top pick on my iPod.