What a treat Friday night's concert at the Lensic was --the Drive-By Truckers in their not-really-unplugged "The Dirt Underneath" version and Alejandro Escovedo with a good tight band.
And what a cool show Dengue Fever put on at the College of Santa Fe Saturday despite being hampered by an act of God. I'll rave about the music, though the weird snow-in-May weather made for a terrible day for an outdoor concert.
First Friday's Lensic show:
Alejandro opened the show. I've seen him several times both in Santa Fe and in Austin at various configurations -- with his full "orchestra"; with his "string quartet"; with Richard Buckner; with Buick MacKane (!) and playing informally with various pals at Maria's Taco Xpress at the party he used to throw there at South by Southwest.
But I hadn't seen him since his comeback after his near-fatal bout with Hepatitis C. I wasn't sure what to expect. So I was very happy when I realized Alejandro's playing as strong, if not stronger than ever. Part of the credit goes to his band. Longtime cello player Brian Standerfer (from Albuquerque) has become an integral part of Alejandro's sound and he shined last night. And guitarist David Polkingham is perfect for Alejandro. He can go from breathtakingly pretty Mexican and even flamenco sounds on acoustic guitar to growling electric craziness. Somewhere in there I thought I heard some Willie Nelson licks.
Alejandro started deceptively somber. The first part of his set seemed to concentrate on tunes from his latest album The Boxing Mirror. I've got to confess, that album didn't do much for me when it was released last year, but after last night's versions of "Arizona" and "Deer Head on the Wall," I think I'd better give it a second chance.
But by the end of his time on stage, Alejandro was rocking. One of my favorite tunes he did all night was "Everybody Loves Me" (which was even better than Charlie Musselwhite's version on Por Vida, the Escovedo tribute album.) "Castanets" always is fun. And I'm willing to bet that this was the first time "Now I Wanna Be Your Dog" has ever been played in the genteel Lensic.
But my absolute favorite had to be "Rosalie," which is one of my favorite Escovedo tunes anyway. It was a slower version than I'm familiar with. It was gorgeous.
All in all a soulful performance by a great American artist.
I also loved the DBT's performance, though as Patterson Hood explained in my interview (scroll down a couple of posts) this was not a normal Truckers show. "The Dirt Underneath" is a stripped-down, kinder/gentler version of the usual ferocious, electric Truckers concert. Southern-soul architect Spooner Oldham played keyboards, guitarist John Neff played pedal steel on most songs and Hood and Mike Cooley played acoustic guitars.
Last night it hit me how tough it can be for a band known for its high-energy performances to try something mellower. This was illustrated when after a stunning and poignant version of "The Sands of Iwo Jima," some drunken doofus in the audience screamed out a request for "The Night G.G. Allin Came to Town." I cringed. And at one point early in the show, someone yelled, "Turn it up!" But the band played on.
Part of the reason for this tour was to try out new songs being considered for the upcoming album, which they're supposed to start recording next month. They played a few of these, though I didn't catch the titles.
The one that stood out was "Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife," which Hood sang in memory of Bryan Harvey and his family, who were murdered in their Richmond, Va. home on New Year's Day last year. (Harvey was the singer in a cool '80s band called House of Freaks.) My brother said he couldn't make out the lyrics to the song. My problem was that it I started thinking about the murders and the horrible details (another Richmond family was murdered by the Harvey killers that same week), so I wasn't really paying attention to the lyrics. But the melody and Hood's raspy voice were haunting.
The band also reached way back to play a bunch of old tunes I've never heard them do live before. I counted at least three songs from their second album Pizza Deliverance. No "G.G. Allin" but a fantastic version of "Bulldozers and Dirt."
We also were treated to a pair of songs about Skynyrd from Southern Rock Opera -- "Shut Up and Get on the Plane" and "Angels and Fuselage."
Of course my favorite Truckers album is The Dirty South. "The Sands of Iwo Jima" is from that one. Hood's "Puttin' People on the Moon" was a rocking highlight Friday, as was Cooley's "Where the Devil Don't Stay" and "Carl Perkins' Cadillac." I wouldn't have minded hearing "Cottonseed" or "Daddy's Cup."
Ultimately I was craving the high-voltage DBT classic mode. But I'm sure there will be plenty of those shows in the future (and hopefully some will be here.) But "The Dirt Underneath" certainly was a memorable show.
One final shoutout for the DBT's favorite artist Wes Freed, who did the covers and inside artwork for the past several albums. Two of Freed's black demon-swan creatures with glowing red eyes framed the stage while an evil moon of Freed's design hung overhead.
I feel for the good folks at College of Santa Fe trying to plan an outdoor concert here in May. (Organizers are saying next year's might be in September.) Three of the past four Quadstocks have been marred by foul weather, organizers said.
I had a sick kid, so I missed all the opening acts (as well as the Clovis Tornado benefit at Santa Fe Brewing Company, to which I'd also intended to drop by.)
But I wasn't going to miss Dengue Fever, one of the most original bands going today.
For those who haven't heard, this is a group based in southern California fronted by Cambodian-born singer Chhom Nimol. The band plays a hopped-up garage/psychedelic sound -- complete with a real live Farfisa organ and a funky sax -- with southeast Asian overtones, while Chhom sings mostly in her native Khmer tongue.
Much of their music, such as the mysterious "One Thousand Tears Of A Tarantula," sounds as if it's from a soundtrack of a Quentin Tarantino movie yet to be made.
Thanks to the weather, there turnout was terrible. But a couple of dozen of the faithful huddled together on the concrete slab in front of the bandstand and enjoyed a show that was spirited in spite of the cold.
Though the band seemed rather shocked to have to be bundling up in winter clothes (after one song, guitarist Zac Holtzman asked if anyone had any whiskey he cold pour on his left hand), they're pros and they gave it their all.
Several fans told band members after the show to please come back when it's warm. I fully endorse that sentiment.
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