Alejandro Escovedo rocks ACL Season 42 to a close

photo by Scott Newton

When we wrap production of a season of Austin City Limits, it’s always nice to do it with an old friend – in this case, singer/songwriter Alejandro Escovedo, a beloved staple of the Austin music scene since the early 80s and four-time ACL champ.  Joining fans around the world via our livestream, Escovedo hit our stage for a rockin’ show in support of his highly acclaimed new album Burn Something Beautiful.

He was joined for the occasion by the album’s stellar band: guitarist Peter Buck (R.E.M., season 34), bassist Scott McCaughey (R.E.M., The Minus 5), lead guitarist Kurt Bloch (the Fastbacks), drummer John Moen (the Decemberists, seasons 33 and 37) and singer Kelly Hogan (Neko Case, seasons 29 and 39), as well as his stalwart harmony singer Karla Manzur.  Performing nearly the entire album, Escovedo and company brought a perfect end to Season 42.

The three-guitar army blazing at full force, the band hit the stage with “Heartbeat Smile,” the kind of neo-classic rocker Escovedo is so good at. He followed with the more wistful “Sunday Morning Feeling,” which still encouraged waving lighters. Escovedo slowed things down literally and figuratively with “I Don’t Want to Play Guitar Anymore,” a contemplation of mortality and retirement that never felt sad. The blood pumped again via the brash “Beauty of Your Smile,” Bloch and McCaughey pogoing during the verses, before the band roared into the thumping Escovedo hit “Castanets,” highlighted by a fiery Bloch solo.

After band introductions, Escovedo donned his acoustic guitar for a pair of ballads, beginning with the lovely “Suit of Lights,” featuring Hogan’s dulcet tones on one verse. “Sensitive Boys,” Escovedo’s tribute to the folks who make rock & roll their world, kept the mellow but soulful vibe going, as did the midtempo “Farewell to the Good Times,” another look at the aging rock star life. Dedicated to the late U.K.-to-Austin expatriates Ronnie Lane and Ian McLagen, “Beauty and the Buzz” scanned wistful, reflective and beautiful.

Switching out his acoustic for his electric, Escovedo and band brought a party vibe to the rock with “Shave the Cat,” keeping the volume up for the rolling, dreamy “Johnny Volume” and its gnarly Bloch leads. The main set ended with a one-two punch: the thumping “Luna De Miel” and the anthemic “Horizontal,” which brought the proceedings to a close with a howl of feedback. Unsurprisingly, the crowd went wild.

Escovedo and the band returned, welcoming the Burn Something Beautiful Girls Choir to the stage. McCaughey took to the piano and Buck the ebow for the shimmering ballad “Thought I’d Let You Know,” featuring a free jazz piano solo. Then the musicians blasted into “Always a Friend,” the singalong rocker that’s become Escovedo’s signature tune. One re-do of “Beauty and the Buzz” later, Escovedo and his band of merry men and women sent the satiated audience out into the night. “I’ll always come back to Austin,” the local music scene vet enthused at the end. It was a great show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year as part of our Season 42 on your local PBS station.