Few performers take a crowd on the diverse musical and lyrical journey Alejandro Escovedo does. Friday night, before a nearly full house at Knuckleheads, he led his band, the Sensitive Boys, through an 85-minute set that showcased his roots in a variety of styles, from punk, blues and country to rock and folk, delivering each with authority and passion.
He opened with “Can’t Make Me Run,” a slow-burning blues number, coaxing the crowd to sing-along to its refrain: “Don’t give up on love.” He followed that with the hard-rocking “Tender Heart,” an appeal for heavy-duty romance: “I got a dream; do you want to be in my dream?” Then came the libidinous “Castanets” -- “she turns me on like a pickup truck” -- a song with a heavy Rolling Stones vibe, then the countrified “Bottom of the World,” which he dedicated to the city of Houston, apologizing in advance to any Houstonians in the crowd.
And that’s how the mood and dynamics shifted throughout the set. On a few songs, he barked through an auxiliary microphone (a Green Bullet, I was told), giving his vocals more grit and grime. The lyric theme changed dramatically during “Sally Was a Cop,” a song about the Mexican drug war and its violence and mayhem. The crowd joined in on that one to, filling in the “ooohs” during the verses.
The place got joyous a few times, especially during the blues-infused “Everybody Loves Me,” which ended in a freaked-out guitar jam, and “Always A Friend,” a sunny guitar anthem that feels like something off Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” album.
He dropped in a couple covers: first, an epic, full-throttle version of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane,” which prompted the loudest ovation of the night, and then Tom Waits’ “Going Out West.” But he ended with one of his own, “Real As An Animal,” one that pays homage to a band he cited as a heavy influence on him, the Stooges. It’s a primal, blood-and-guts, barnstorming proto-punk anthem and the perfect, inflammatory end to a whirlwind, panoramic journey.