Sacred Music

Last night I went to hear Alejandro Escovedo at St James Church in London. As an atheist/Jew, I’ve never really gotten used to churches (and this really is a church, not a performance space), can’t help but want to be respectful of the sanctity of the space. Escovedo brought along his string quintet, and the music veered between folksy quiet and rock’n’roll loud, never mind the instrumentation.

Escovedo has been around a long time — he started out in the Nuns, a band that opened for the Sex Pistol’s infamous — “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” — last show in San Francisco; went on to form Rank & File, which, along with bands like Jason and the Scorchers, fused a punkish feel with country songs; and eventually moved to Austin, Texas and, with his solo records, started more explicitly exploring the boundaries between Anglo and Chicano culture in California, Mexico and the rest of the southwest US. By then he had become a fully-fledged part of the the so-called alt.country movement which his earlier work had presaged, and indeed was named No Depression’s artist of the 90s.

Recently, he’s been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, and moderately-well-known-indie-musician is not a profession that comes with good health insurance in the US, but his compatriots have rallied to the cause.

The London show ran from waltz-time instrumentals to rave-ups like “I was Drunk”, the tenderness of “Juarez” and “Rosalie”, and the just plain weirdness of “Everybody loves me”. Not fake Escovedo-mania re-orchestrations of rock’n’roll songs, using the strings to recreate the sound of an electric guitar, but rootsy reimaginings that didn’t take the classical associations of the fiddles too seriously — but taking the songs themselves as seriously as they deserved.

Tomorrow I’m off to Sussex for a conference on Bayesian Methods in Cosmology, one of my strange obsessions. Better go finish writing my talk…