It's no doubt more than coincidental that Alejandro Escovedo’s closing cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Shine a Light” last night at 1911 Main touched back on one of the spiritual high points of the past year in Kansas City music. Last February’s Crosstown Station tribute to Exile on Main St.
featured many of the same musicians as those who played with Escovedo last night. That show, also directed by Cody Wyoming, turned out to be less about the Stones than it was about a community of musicians realizing the strength of their collective. Escovedo was certainly the star of his own show last evening, but it was also a celebration of the ties that bind a large cross-section of Kansas City musicians together — starting with the fact that Escovedo was making this off-tour stop as a gift for the birthday of his good friend Matt Kesler (the Pedaljets, the Doo-Dads).
Running through a set of Escovedo’s most well-known and, generally, contemporary songs, Cody Wyoming’s Deal (Wyoming and Chris Meck on guitar, Mike Stover on pedal steel, Erik Voeks on bass and Paul Andrews on drums) and the backup singers, dubbed Bitchcraft (Abigail Henderson, Lauren Krum and Katie Gilchrist), proved more than capable of capturing the subtle dynamics and raw power one would expect from an Escovedo show.
“Real Animal” surged like the nod to Iggy Pop that Escovedo explained it was. (He told a funny story about accidentally giving the original punk a ride to a show when Escovedo was only a kid.) The band drove hard. Wyoming offered eloquent musical segues, and Chris Meck time and again lived up to the call for a transcendent lead guitar. Particularly memorable among these moments was Meck’s response to Escovedo’s “C’mon Chris!” on “Everybody Loves Me” — wailing and digging at the possibilities in the moment. Another great guitar moment came from shining tosses among Wyoming, Escovedo and Meck on, naturally, “Velvet Guitar.” At the same time, the backing vocals from Henderson, Krum and Gilchrist lent a delicate counterpoint to “Pissed Off 2 AM,” exuberant force to “Castanets” (featuring some mean castanet work by Krum) and the anthemic breadth “Shine a Light” demands, Henderson’s very presence recalling her brilliant take on the song at the close of Exile
And it was quite simply a beautiful Alejandro Escovedo set in its own right. It’s hard to pick standouts from an artist whose every show seems to redefine audience expectations, creating a unique whole that would not quite exist without all of the night’s distinct parts. Still, of particular poignancy (perhaps in the current cultural climate) were his songs of migratory dreams and heartbreak — “Rosalie” and “Wave.” Climactic in its intensity was the somewhat delicate run from “Down in the Bowery” (that Escovedo dedicated to his son and which no doubt every parent in the room wanted to rush home and play for his or her child), “Sister Lost Soul” (which Escovedo dedicated to the late Jim Strahm, Kesler’s partner at Midwestern Musical Co. and a good friend to half the people in the room, including Escovedo’s previously mentioned son, Paris), and the heart-wrenching “Pissed Off 2 AM.” All of these were songs about people seeking the deepest sort of connection across impossible distances, all of them closing the distance between every individual in the room.
This particular form of communion that's distinct to an Escovedo show was magnified by the joyful exuberance of the ad-hoc group playing this one-time show together. And the evening was nicely opened by Kansas City’s Dead Voices (David Regnier on vocals, Jason Beers on bass, Marco Pascolini on lead guitar, and Matt Richey on drums). During that hard-rocking and subtly other-worldly set, Regnier invited Krum to join him in a tribute to Gram Parsons, one of the connecting points for this diverse set of musicians. By “Castanets,” Escovedo had Kesler playing acoustic guitar onstage with the rest of the band. As much as the most common theme in the night’s lyrics may have been dreams beyond our grasp, such reaches pulled the house at 1911 Main into a potlatch of what might be (should be) called dreams come true.
This Ain’t Love
Five Hearts Breaking
Swallows of San Juan
Always a Friend
I Don’t Need You
Down in the Bowery
Sister Lost Soul
Pissed Off 2 AM
Everybody Loves Me
Falling Down Again
Shine a Light