Thursday, February 3, 2011

Alejandro Escovedo can kiss my ass

Pete Yorn--"Rock Crowd" (mp3)

If you go to concerts enough, eventually you play every audience role there is--person who can barely see show from nosebleed or obstructed-view seat, gushing fan, disinterested observer, front row aficianado, drunken asshole shouting out lyrics, sign-carrying fanatic, earplug-wearing oldie, dancer, sitter, romancer. Certainly, I have been them all. Tuesday night, at the Alejandro Escovedo concert, I added another one. I was chastised audience member, the bad kid in school called out by the teacher.

Here's what happened: about 6 songs into the set, Escovedo strapped on an acoustic guitar and said they were going to do some acoustic songs, to which I yelled, "I Got Drunk." (sorry, factcheckers, yes, I typed "I Got Drunk" here, but yes I shouted at the time, "I Was Drunk"--was probably thinking, when typing, of that great song, "I Got Loaded") For those not familiar with Escovedo's music, this was not a statement about my condition, but the name of one of his quieter songs. I was about 10 feet away; there were about 60 people in the audience. Escovedo responded, made eye contact with me, "I'm glad that you know the names of my songs, but we have a setlist up here that we're going by, so yelling out songs probably isn't going to do any good." Or something like that. A hush settled over the crowd. Some looked at me. Clearly, I had done something wrong.

Now, I'm not even a big fan. I enjoy most of Mr. Escovedo's songs that I've heard, mostly through my friend Nick and a couple of CDs I've owned for many years. The only reason I named that particular one is because the Troutking had been following Escovedo's setlists for weeks and that was on it, so when he started his acoustic set, knowing the song, I figured that would be one of the songs he'd play.

Allow me to interpret Mr. Escovedo's words to me. Translation A: Kindly shut the fuck up from here on out. Translation B: I'd appreciate it if the rest of you here didn't request any songs either, since we won't be playing them.

I think both translations are accurate, the second one being the more troubling. And that's even though I get the whole artist thing, troubled or otherwise. I know that there are plenty of musicians whom I greatly admire that play pre-arranged setlists, sometimes night after night.

When I saw the Stills-Young Band back in 1977, during Neil Young's acoustic set, people were yelling and talking, and he stopped playing. "I'm sorry, folks," he said. "I love music too much." And he walked offstage. And maybe you're thinking, 'Right on, Neil, you're making a great artistic statement' and maybe I'm thinking, 'Neil, you're playing to 15,000 stoned people in a hockey arena. Do you really expect silence?' I remember Bruce Springsteen, during an acoustic tour, telling people not to clap along because it will mess him up, or, telling Madison Square Garden "We need some quiet in here" when he starts "41 Shots." I remember seeing Canadian folksinger Murray McLauchlan at the Main Point and my brother requesting "Child's Song" and McLauchlan snapping back, "My father died, I don't play that one anymore." It's unfortunate, but when a performer implies that his or her own self-importance holds sway or that the audience has done something wrong, collectively or individually, it destroys the mood.

How dare I call for a song that he's not going to play? My enjoyment of Escovedo's show ended right then and there. He shamed me. For no good reason. Because I requested a song. Frankly, he ruined my night. Because I asked for a song.

There are other ways of handling a situation like this. God knows, I'm aware that fans shouting out songs can be annoying. I've been that fan. But why not defuse it with a simple, "Yeah, we were playing that a few weeks back, but our setlist has morphed a bit." Or placate: "Yeah, we might be able to get to that later." Or collect all the requests like Springsteen does. You only have to play one of them to satisfy the crowd. And then move on. Because, otherwise, if you're going to state so unequivocally that you don't want any audience interaction in your show, then you end up in the land of Queen--we will rock you; you will not rock us.

And, by the way, Alejandro, it ain't like you were playin' Quadrophenia or The Wall start to finish. Or in Madison Square Garden. Nope, 60 people in a club. People who knew your music and the many phases of your career. In a very intimate setting. How many other artists, in that setting, might actually play to the crowd a little, bust out obscure numbers that only the faithful would appreciate?

SIDEBAR: From a review of an Escovedo show 9 years ago: "The evening's quieter, darker songs were equally effective and appreciated. A fan's shouted request for "Pissed Off 2 A.M." yielded a riveting mid-show highlight, as Escovedo somehow succeeded with the ballad (autobiographical?) of a failed rock star who realizes he's "too old to
wear leather pants." Another compelling original was Escovedo's
heart-ripping, liquored-up stumble through "I Was Drunk."


You know, I do arrange a few playlists of my own, Mr. Escovedo. And what's been deleted from the Ipod won't be making it onto any of them.

A couple of closing thoughts: Escovedo played about 1 1/2 hours, was done by about 10:45, so it's not like an extra song or two straying from the setlist for the fans would have caused his bus to be late to the next show or that, like the Dead or Springsteen with their marathon concerts, he had given everything he had. Ninety minutes. And, a woman later in the show put the name of a song, "Sad and Dreamy," on a piece of paper with a twenty dollar bill and got the song played, or so my friends tell me. I had moved way off to the side by then, unwilling waste any more of my hearing.

Alejandro Escovedo could learn a thing from Pete Yorn and his good little song.

30 comments:

troutking said...

I agree with you 100%. I think it's possible that he didn't intend to chastise you, he was just stating facts. But, if you're upset that the crowd is small, don't take it out on the people who did care enough to show up, right? He could have made lemonade out of lemons and played the best damn show those 60 people ever heard and send them out spreading the gospel of Alejandro. That's what his buddy Bruce would have done, and that's why the Boss doesn't play small empty clubs in Chattanooga on a Tuesday night...

BeckEye said...

Yeah, that's annoying. I remember when I saw Charlie Sexton and we were yelling for "Beat's So Lonely," his ONLY even minor hit from way back when he was 19, and he looked down and sort of pissily told us "It's not gonna happen." I get that he was older, had a new band and new music and all that shit, but how about being a little more gracious when people remember your one little song from the '80s or that anyone knows who the hell you are right now?

Billy said...

Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking and unfair truths of the world is that most forms of artistic expression require, for the financial survival of the artist, a level of salesmanship (or saleswomanship). Springsteen may be a golden god, but he wouldn't have reached that height without some serious talents in salesmanship.

It is possible for an artist's work to shine so powerfully that people overlook their being an asshole or even cruel and abusive, but this is not a gambit most artists should take.

Even Bad Blake tried, when not puking in trash cans, to put on a decent show.

I agree it's not about the unwillingness to swerve from the set list as about his need to address you at all or in such a negative manner. (Note: Ryan Adams' infamous concert behavior in no small part minimizes my curiosity about his music.)

Hank said...

I know I shared this story with troutking and Bob already, but it seems appropriate to repeat it here.

The last time I saw Alejandro was in Birmingham and his opening act was a local guy, well known by the crowd. People continuously called for favorite songs from him and he generally obliged the most vocal requests. At one point, he stopped the show and went on a rant about bands/singers who get upset with crowd requests. He specifically mentioned a Ryan Adams concert in Birmingham. Tuesday night just kind of brought the whole thing full circle for me.

Bob said...

I suspect Kurtz is right, that the discovery that you're playing in front of 60 people on a Tuesday night is disheartening and makes you want to do what you were hired to do and get out of there. That's a GROSS of about $900, there are 4 people in the band, plus gas, food, lodging and untold other expenses. If you read about his show just 4 days earlier (another weekday show) in Roanoke, it's a completely different story.

But the fact remains that the 60 people who show up have made various sacrifices and investments of their own and shouldn't have to suffer for the venue's poor promotion (if that is the case) or for the 240 people who didn't show up.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh...you're a thin skinned twerp. Perhaps it would have made a difference if, when you shouted out the song, you had the title right. That's why he said something to you about knowing (or in this case not knowing) the names of his songs. The song is "I Was Drunk"...not "I Got Drunk". Get a grip, weenie. If you need help, call a therapist. Alejandro is one of the most gracious performers anywhere. Bro, face it and step up to the plate, you brought it on yourself.

Bob said...

Sorry, Anon, you're right. I mistyped the song title for this blog post. I actually did yell out "I Was Drunk."

I'm glad someone's taken me on, though, albeit hiding behind the typical cloak of you-know-what. (Billy won't let me castigate our "shy" readers anymore)

The Big Nichols said...

I still contend that he was not intending to belittle you. I really do think he was trying to be funny with it. I don't think I'm being blinded by my-super fandom and preshow hang in saying this, either.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bob, I'm "Anon" because I stumbled upon this quite by accident and don't want/care to open an account or share any other info. That's a choice everyone has. Not hiding from you or anyone.
After re-reading your blog, you are one sensitive fellow. As a suggestion, before you type in the name of a song, or anything, you might think of checking to see if you've done it correctly before you publish it. Spell check is one thing, fact check is another thing entirely. You got your "fact" wrong, just that simple.
I've had the good fortune to see Alejandro on numerous occasions and he was joking with you...get it? Obviously not. Big Nichols is right on the mark.
Anyway, you got to vent and that was your purpose so mission accomplished. Now it's time to take your little blue pill and chill. By the way, my name is Allen so if you want to take a swing at me by name, have at it.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Allen. You're like the guy who comes with a friend to a party of people he doesn't know and then proceeds to insult the host. Nicely done. Stay classy.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Anon...but I didn't intend to crash the party.
One good insult (Alejandro Escovedo can kiss my ass) begged for another. Glad you felt it was nicely done. Stay sarcastic.

Billy said...

Dear Alanon: I find it fascinating that a man whose entire argument about Bob's flaw -- that he didn't have his facts right -- has the power to astrally project himself into a concert he didn't attend to divine the intentions and motivations of a musician.

I've been married for 15 years, and there are times when we're in the same room talking face to face and I can't be all that certain of her intentions or motivations. So for you to be able to do so without having anything but "prior experience" with AE is, well, quite miraculous.

Especially when basing your gripes on the fact that Bob can't get his facts straight.

That said, I don't care if you insult him or me beyond the point of ludicrousness. Bob won't admit it, but he's learned that lots of comments show up when he insults a beloved musician.

BeckEye said...

Yeah, Bob, you're too sensitive. Not like, say, someone who probably gets Google notifications whenever his favorite artists are mentioned and then proceeds to argue with any blogger who dare not share the opinion that said artists are brilliant, blinding lights from heaven.

And you should definitely take a chill pill, because it's 1977.

goofytakemyhand said...

Wow, Anonymous is indeed a Sensitive Boy.

Hank said...

As far as nerd fights go started by fans of artists mentioned on BOTG, I rank this third:
1: Hanson
2: Avett Brothers
3: Alejandro Escovedo

Let me know if I missed one

troutking said...

I was there and if Alejandro was joking he's more deadpan than Steven Wright. And less funny.

No one here is saying he isn't a great artist, just that this wasn't his greatest moment.

jed said...

Allen is Mr. Escovedo's middle name. who knew?

cinderkeys said...

Cinder Bridge (my band) always uses a set list. We put time and effort into ordering the songs just right. But believe me, if somebody has a request we can accommodate, we're happy to do it. Overjoyed.

If we can't accommodate the request, it's probably because the song's been on the back burner so long, I'm likely to forget the lyrics. If that's the case, I'm apologetic about it. If someone wanted to hear it, I should've included it!

Dave Marsh said...

I must say that a critical approach to the performance arts that insists that the customer may intrude upon the performer whenever s/he chooses but the performer must never, ever speak critically to the audience summarizes with rare perfection the absolute guarantee of banality that has ruined that culture over the past 30 years or so.

Kris Kristofferson, who likes to preach from the left a bit during his shows, often hears "Shut up and sing." To which he replies, "Shut up and listen."

Too bad this writer is incapable of doing so when his infantile demands are not met.

My guess is that you missed more than Al did.

Billy said...

Dave -- Either a wonderfully-selected pseudonym, or, if this really is THE Dave Marsh, you haven't asked yourself the question: What Would Springsteen Do?

I appreciate that you are under the impression that a rock concert should work under the same auspices as La Bohème. I appreciate that you believe a rock concert should apparently work with an applause sign where the audience is granted permission to react. Perhaps that's how you think the term "granted audience" was coined, with the Performance Artist As Courtly King.

While your accusation regarding banal music might be accurately applied to my musical leanings, to throw that on Bob -- who once slept with Kris Kristofferson -- is like calling Dick Cheney a Communist. It's so far afield as to be laughable.

Hell, if you're THE Dave Marsh, Bob even agrees with you that Queen sucks. Fortunately, I can still like some of your writings even if you come across like a tool in this instance.

Bob said...

I really do appreciate all of the comments to this post. Certainly, I expected that it might stir some controversy, with its title, if nothing else.

There are 2 indisputable facts that those who were there can easily confirm:

1) No one called out for a song for the rest of the evening.

2) A woman wrote the name of a song on a piece of paper, attached a $20 bill to it, handed it to Mr. Escovedo, and it was played.

If that is the environment that you seek in a live club concert,then by all means defend Mr. Escovedo to your grave.

For the critics of this post, I am reminded of this Stephen Crane poem:

A god in wrath
Was beating a man;
He cuffed him loudly
With thunderous blows
That rang and rolled over the earth.
All people came running.
The man screamed and struggled,
And bit madly at the feet of the god.
The people cried,
"Ah, what a wicked man!"
And --
"Ah, what a redoubtable god!"

cinderkeys said...

I must say that a critical approach to the performance arts that insists that the customer may intrude upon the performer whenever s/he chooses but the performer must never, ever speak critically to the audience ...

But that's not what Bob said. He's not talking about heckling, or drunkenly trying to get the performer's attention during a song. He's talking about calling out a request in between songs. And a request is a request, not a demand, infantile or otherwise.

troutking said...

If that was the real Dave Marsh, I would have thought that hanging around Bruce so much would have made him cooler. Guess it didn't take.

msriot said...

It obviously didn't work for Escovedo either! He's finally showing his true colors.

Tommy said...

My name's Tommy and I saw Alejandro at Eddie's Attic here in Atlanta a year or two ago. He was a complete gentleman. I would imagine artists get tired of having requests yelled at them. Some artists (Springsteen, Hornsby, etc) take requests. Many do not. If you feel this makes them jerks, so be it, but they spend years in bars and dives playing other people's songs, taking cover requests, and having people talk over their performances. By the time they make it to a certain station as performers, I think they have earned the right to follow a setlist they feel works. Maybe they had a crappy 'flood gates' experience or two when they started taking requests that totally derailed their show recently.
Who knows?

But Escovedo seems like a gracious class act to me, and this story doesn't sway my notion of him in the least.

John Velghe said...

When I hear about these stories I usually recall F. Scott Fitzgerald's quote: "It's not a slam at you when people are rude, it's a slam at people they've met before."

Sometimes performers have a bad night for any number of reasons. Do all of these reasons excuse boorish behavior? No. And sometimes the behavior, or rudeness, comes from a place that has nothing to do with what you did or said but unfortunately it gets directed at you. I hate hearing that this happened -- but unlike some commenters -- I don't think it's a sign of a personality defect on anyone's part.

Now for the requisite personal observances:

I've been watching Alejandro perform live for about 20 years. I've seen people shout and myself shouted out songs to him and never witnessed so much less than a smile. Recently at a show I saw him oblige multiple fan requests that were shouted out.

Maybe hearing about this will be enough to renew your interest in catching one of his shows at some point, or maybe it won't I do wonder if some of the commenters will let one of the stories of positive fan interaction influence them as much as one story of negative fan interaction?

The fact is I've only encountered a few performers who are as friendly and kind in person as Alejandro and his band. I found this to be the case back in 1993 and it's one of the reasons remain a fan.

In this case the impact this situation had on you is regrettable. The level of spite from some commenters is equally so.

Billy Bob said...

John, thanks for your wisdom on this ever-controversial subject. Mr. Escovedo is coming back to town soon, and on a Saturday when he'll likely get a crowd size more to his liking. Maybe I'll join that crowd. Who knows?

Anonymous said...

I'm a little late joining the debate, but here it goes: Alejandro Escovedo is without question the most gracious performer I've ever seen live, and I've seen him several times in several different venues and different band formats. He's approachable before and after shows and the only time I saw him react to someone yelling a request was in response to a fan shouting "Pale Blue Eyes" just 2 songs into his set. Escovedo jokingly responded "Two songs into our set and someone is already requesting a Lou Reed song." He did eventually play the song, but not until the encore. I've been to shows where he took requests and I have live recordings where he took requests. Additionally, I've never seen a performer support its opening act as much as he does. He'll mention them several times during his set, and almost always has them join him for his encore. Whatever may have been bothering Escovedo on the night in question - if anything - it certainly was not the size of the audience. Escovedo has been in this business for a long time and he is more than accustomed to playing to small crowds. 60 people in the audience is not terribly out of the ordinary. Bottom line is if something was bothering him that night, who are we to judge him based solely on that one moment in time?

Anonymous said...

I've known him personally for over 35 years - I can tell you - he's an asshole - he might be a gentleman - and he definitely has the charm and charisma that's helped him get what success he's had - but he's self centered, egocentric and doesn't care about anything or anyone but himself.

Bob said...

Thanks for letting me know, second anon. I've never gotten over it, despite his talent. I'm only happy to have experienced so many gracious performers since.