Alejandro Escovedo: He's never been your beast of burden.
Unlikely Rock Stars
By Bill Forman
Economics professors are generally not treated like rock stars, so it was surprising to see nearly 100 folks arguing because they were shut out of Harvard prof Amartya Sen's beyond capacity lecture Saturday at UCSC's Music Center Recital Hall. Mūz also missed out on the first-come, first-served seating, but managed to snag some floor space by following an usher as she escorted two well-dressed and exceedingly argumentative women from New York downstairs to the stage entrance. We arrived in time to see Sen out onstage being presented with the UC-Santa Cruz Foundation Medal, a source of no small amusement given the fact that even as one presenter was explaining its symbolic representation of higher learning's "solid foundation," the other was still trying to screw the shiny, impressive award into its difficult-to-attach base. Sen was a gracious speaker, whose timely argument against essentialist views of religion and national identity were enlivened by his wry wit, as when he explained that an individual can belong, without contradiction, to any number of categories, even a club whose members believe that aliens already walk among us and the only way to identify these 'extraterrestrial wetbacks is their fondness for quoting Shakespeare.' So true.
Meanwhile, back in the proper music world, Alejandro Escovedo gave an extraordinary performance at the Attic last Tuesday. The former member of Rank & File and the True Believers may have strayed from the Latin rhythms favored by family members Pete, Coke and even Sheila E, but there's no doubting the depth and soulfulness contained within his exquisite singing and songwriting. Fronting a moody yet muscular band that included a cellist (which makes sense given that Velvet Underground cellist John Cale produced his latest album), Escovedo kicked out the jams with an eclectic set of originals and odd covers. (How often do you hear inspired and completely unironic renderings of Gun Club's Sex Beat and the Rolling Stones' Beast of Burden in a single set?) He even played Castanets, a song he stopped doing after The New York Times reported that it had found its way onto George W. Bush's iPod. Joining him for the encore was tour mate Chuck Prophet, formerly of Green on Red, who organized benefit concerts to help Escovedo when he nearly died from Hepatitis C. All in all, a triumphant return.
Over at the Catalyst, there was much nostalgia to be found this weekend, as the English Beat returned to town with the sand from their summer Boardwalk appearance barely kicked out of their shoes. Although it was disappointing that frontman Dave Wakeling didn't have Specials guitarist Neville Staples in tow this time through, the band continue to perform their vintage material as though they'd written it just yesterday. The following night, Hot Tuna took the stage, with burly frontman Jorma Kaukonen coaxing liltingly beautiful leads from his guitar while stick-thin accomplice Jack Casady proved that, even while sitting down during an acoustic gig, it's still possible to look like a rock star.
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