Concert Review: Alejandro Escovedo and The Sensitive Boys at The Birchmere

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I am faceless this morning, for Alejandro Escovedo and The Sensitive Boys rocked it right off my skull last night with their nearly two-hour set at the Birchmere. It’s not like I hadn’t been aware of the risk. As he opened the show, Escovedo told the crowd, “I want to warn you, first off, that we just made a rock ‘n’ roll record.”

He’s talking about the excellent Street Songs of Love, whose songs composed the first six songs of his set. They started off with “This Bed is Getting Crowded,” a fierce rocker about emotional baggage in relationships, but the highlight of the Street Songs was “Anchor,” a song that firmly cements Escovedo’s role as the Chicano Springsteen. (Seriously, if you like Bruce or Tom Petty or any other legendary rock stars of that ilk and are not listening to Alejandro, you better get started. You’re welcome.)

The rest of the set ranged from fan favorite “Castanets” (which was banished from Escovedo’s live shows for a few years once he learned that it was one of then-President George W. Bush’s favorite songs on his iPod) to “Last to Know,” a cut from his first solo record, Gravity, which is rarely played live.

When he wasn’t melting faces, Escovedo was melting hearts, charming the Birchmere crowd with quick wit and self-deprecating humor. Leading into “Down in the Bowery,” a sweet song he wrote for his son, Escovedo grinned as he related the teen’s description of his dad’s tunes: “old music for old people.”

If this is old music for old people, I guess I better reserve a room at the rest home, because it must be one happening place. Songs like “Chelsea Hotel ’78″ were imbued with the fiery punk energy of the era, while “Rosalie” was a sublime ballad, with Escovedo’s beautiful lyrics paired with stunning fingerstyle guitar from David Pulkingham.

The end of the show came far too soon, but Alejandro and The Sensitive Boys returned for one more song: an extra-long cover of “Beast of Burden” that, after a polite request from Escovedo to ignore the Birchmere’s rules, had the crowd on their feet and singing along.

Escovedo first came to DC in the late ’70s when he played the 9:30 as a member of The Nuns (opening for The Fleshtones), and he just keeps getting better with each successive visit. He’s also got some big plans for his 60th birthday, which occurs next year. Look for him and the boys to do some shows following in the trend of playing albums straight through. If for some reason they don’t come to town on that tour, a road trip is certainly in order.

SET LIST
1. “This Bed is Getting Crowded”
2. “Anchor”
3. “Tender Heart”
4. “Street Song”
5. (I don’t remember this one because I was thinking about suckerpunching the dude who kept kicking my chair. If you’re going to kick, at least do it with the beat.)
6. “Down in the Bowery”
7. “Juarez”
8. “Rosalie”
9. “I Was Drunk”
10. “Ft. Worth Blue”
11. “Last to Know”
12. “Chelsea Hotel ’78″
13. “Castanets”
14. “Always a Friend”
Encore: “Beast of Burden”

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