Going anthemic with The Alejandro Escovedo Experience

Being a working musician, for the vast majority of us full-time or part-timers, results in a wide spectrum of gigging experiences. For me, January 9th at the ACL Live Moody Theater in Austin, TX. was at the high end of that spectrum. Four straight days in rehearsal with ten musicians plus a children’s choir and twenty tunes to learn, we came out exhausted and ready to bring it to a strong turnout at the Moody Theater. It was a great night with many high points in a beautifully balanced show that drew from the deep songbooks of both Leonard Cohen and Alejandro Escovedo. The few reviews I’ve seen agreed.  The night was called, The Leonard Cohen Influence: A Thousand Kisses Deep, and wove a story of songwriting inspiration through a variety of musical, theatrical, and visual elements — the type of ACL Live show that Alejandro has become known for. It was third year I’ve been involved in Alejandro Escovedo‘s annual ACL Live show, the first featuring multiple artists in a retrospective on Austin’s rich music history. Last year, I participated in the full show as a member of Elias Haslanger’s Church on Monday band. Since that time, I’ve worked with Alejandro in many settings and am proud to call myself a member of his extended musical family.

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Photo by Brian Towns

Working with Alejandro Escovedo in small group, quasi-unplugged settings as well as with his larger electric band has broadened my mind as a drummer and informed how I approached this year’s ACL Live performance, which we get to repeat this weekend at The City Winery in New York City. Playing singer-songwriter rock, or whatever one chooses to call Alejandro’s music, is as much a specialized art-form as playing the souljazz I do with Church on Monday, or the hardbop and groove with Ephraim Owens, or the floating feel of the trio with Mitch Watkins and Chris Maresh. As with Church on Monday, it’s about getting deep into the groove and working it patiently, like slowly staining a piece of wood, letting the color soak in, achieving a nice, even application. There are moments where controlled chaos comes into play, but never sacrificing that underlying pulse. In a way, for me, that’s true about all good drumming. There are just varying levels of literalism, depending on the context.

A-List Alejandro Escovedo Experience:The Leonard Cohen Influenc
Photo by Suzanne Cordeiro for Austin American-Statesman

The band for the ACL Live show will be largely the same for Friday and Saturday at The City Winery in NYC — Elias Haslanger (sax), Mitch Watkins (guitar), Chris Holston (additional guitar on select numbers), Sean Giddings (keys), Daniel Durham (bass), Karla Manzur & Jesse England (backing vocals), Brian Standefer (cello), myself on drums, with Alejandro leading the charge narrating the evening, singing, and playing some guitar. We’re missing the great Julie Christensen (featured in the video above from the Jan 9th performance) and Matt Fish, who doubled the cello muscle at ACL Live. But it will still be a great show as we all dig even deeper into a great 90+ minute set of music that, if there is any justice, we’ll get to perform again, soon.

(featured image of Alejandro Escovedo by Todd V Wolfson.)

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