TVD Live: Alejandro Escovedo, Sammy Brue
at The Birchmere, 6/24

PHOTO: TODD V. WOLFSON | Alejandro Escovedo brings a lot of talented approaches into one rock figure. His show at The Birchmere in Alexandria Saturday had aspects of both his hard rocking post punk career and also his quieter acoustic material. In both, he was backed by a talented three-piece, who wailed when the electricity was full and sat with him when he grabbed the acoustic.

Bringing a variety of influences into his music, from rock, to Texas songwriter traditions, to country, punk, and Tejano, Escovedo seems to have been super-energized since a life-threatening health scare 14 years that also sidelined his music for more than a year.

With the proverbial new lease, he seems at 66 unleashed on stage, and appears as youthful as the other new additions to his band, bassist Aaron McClellan and guitarist Nick Diaz, who added soaring solos in a number of songs. Longtime associate Scott Laningham continues on drums. Too bad it’s not the all-star backing band he had last spring when touring his latest album Burn Something, which featured Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey on guitars and co-writing.

But Escovedo’s plenty able to do these things without them, so he started with rockers he recorded from the last few albums, “Can’t Make Me Run,” “Dear Head on the Wall,” and “Shave Cat” before pulling up a chair and considering some of his oldest songs dating back to “Five Hearts Breaking,” which came alongside a long monologue about the old country musician who inspired it. It was from his first solo album, Gravity, now marking its 25th anniversary.

He played just one from his fine Street Songs of Love—the affecting “Down in the Bowery,” which he dedicated to his son, out with him as a roadie this summer. And there was a remnant from the Leonard Cohen tributes he played earlier this year—a cover of “Alexandra Leaving” in the encore.

But while some shows this time out have ended there, his turned up the volume in the encore again with both his salute to Johnny Thunders, “Johnny Volume,” and his masterful cover of The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”

Escovedo noted that he had played The Birchmere a lot, and noted ruefully that some shows were better than others. This was one of the better ones, though, all seemed to agree. And he seemed to get a special kick out of getting the traditionally sedentary audience there out of their seats more than once to rock out.

Escovedo has not only accompanied a number of musicians in his career, he’s also helped introduce new artists in opening slots. The latest is Sammy Brue, who might be considered a novelty act if he weren’t so deeply talented a songwriter.

Raised in the Pacific Northwest on his dad’s record collection and playing guitar since he was a tot, Brue is still only 16 and admits he hadn’t actually suffered the kind of heartbreak he sings about in his original songs. One song, he said, he wrote while in detention. That doesn’t mean they’re any less piercing and true, and buoyed on melodies and riffs that seem durable and memorable.

After a couple of self-released EPs back before he had a drivers’ license, his new album I Am Nice is out on New West (and he already sold out of all of its copies on the road), and from which he sang a half-dozen tunes. But brimming with creativity, he also had a new song that came without a title.

The other trait of Birchmere audiences is that they are close listeners and open to newcomers, which Brue appreciated. Like the headliner, Brue didn’t pigeonhole himself into just one genre, moving from folkie romantic laments to what he called a punk rock song to end his short set, “Covered in Blood.” The kid looked like he was having fun.

ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO SETLIST
Can’t Make Me Run
Dear Head on the Wall
Shave the Cat
Rhapsody
Don’t Need You
Five Hearts Breaking
Wave
Suit of Lights
Rosalie
Down in the Bowery
Sally Was a Cop
Crooked Frame
Luna De Miel
Velvet Guitar
Break This Time
Castanets

Alexandra Leaving
Johnny Volume (Goin’ Down to Max’s)
I Wanna Be Your Dog

SAMMY BRUE SETLIST
White
I Know
Jealous
I See I Hear
Control Freak
I Never Said
Fall Apart (untitled)
Covered in Blood

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