CONCERT REVIEW: Escovedo rocks chandelier lobby series

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First Posted: 4/21/2014

Alejandro Escovedo and the Sensitive Boys proved on April 15 that not all performances in the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts’ “Live from the Chandelier Lobby” series will be subdued evenings with sensitive singer/songwriters.

In other words, the four-piece band really rocked the joint, shaking the Wilkes-Barre theater’s art deco walls and making that grand chandelier dance.

Escovedo, whose musical career stretches back decades and encompasses multiple styles and genres, including alt-rock, alt-country and punk rock, was the first artist announced for the Kirby Center’s new series and the third headliner to take the makeshift stage in the theater’s lobby for an intimate crowd of about 125.

And the San Antonio-born singer/songwriter was on his game from the moment he strolled through the lobby, picked up his electric guitar, and led the band into “Put You Down,” a hard-charging number once it is stripped of its strings from the 1996 recorded version. Without even a moment’s pause, Escovedo then charged into “Tender Heart” from his 2010 album “Street Songs of Love.”

The evening’s first tune from his most recent album, “Can’t Make Me Run” from 2012’s “Big Station,” ended with Escovedo coaxing the crowd into repeating the phrase, “Don’t give up on love,” as the band played on furiously.

After another rocker, Escovedo picked up an acoustic guitar, told a story about his adopted hometown of Austin, Texas, and then led the band into “Bottom of the World,” another standout from his most recent album.

A story about his parents packing up their 12 kids into a car in the late 1950s for a vacation in California led to the song “San Antonio Rain.”

“12 kids in a four-door sedan with your grandmother along just to cast spells is not a good fit,” he said before noting that, for whatever reason, the family never returned to Texas, making its new home in Huntington Beach.

Two more acoustic songs – “Sensitive Boys” and “Wave” – followed before Escovedo returned to the electric guitar for “Castanets,” perhaps his best-known song, and one he refused to play for two years after learning it was on George W. Bush’s iPod in 2005.

The main set ended with a scorching version of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” and an equally fiery take on Escovedo’s own “Sally Was a Cop.” One of these last two songs caused an issue with Escovedo’s amplifier (he jokingly tried to sell it “as is”), so he sang his encore of Tom Waits’ “Goin’ Out West” sans guitar.

Opening act Amy Cook, a singer/songwriter originally based in Los Angeles before also adopting Austin as her hometown, began the evening with an impressive eight-song, 40-minute solo set.

Highlights included newer songs “Getting to You” and “It’s Gonna Rain” on electric guitar (both from 2012’s “Summer Skin”), and “Strange Birds” and “Hotel Lights,” a pair of acoustic-driven songs from her 2010 Escovedo-produced album “Let the Light In.” Her set-concluding take on Blondie’s “Dreaming” was also a high point.

Cook connected with the crowd by relating the charming story of how Robert Plant came to sing with her on the recorded version of “It’s Gonna Rain” (“Do you mind if I give it a go?” he said. “No, Robert Plant, I do not mind,” she said.), and how she first came to Escovedo’s attention.

“I was walking down the street, and he was going the other way and he said, ‘Amy Cook, I like your songs,’” she recalled. “A few weeks later, we were on tour together and it was awesome. Now we’re on tour again and it’s still awesome.”