No one agrees on when summer really ends.
Many will say the Labor Day holiday weekend is the end. People on academic rhythms (teachers, students, parents of schoolkids) will say the first day of school, or the literal-minded will say the autumnal equinox of Sept. 21 or 22 (if that's even what it's called, whatever, I'll let someone who knows science correct me in the comments). Or maybe it's when it's finally cold enough to put on a sweater or a hoodie sweatshirt, or even when college football starts.
In Chicago, when the last summer festival is over, summer is over. And summer ended last night on a crisp, un-summery evening with the Chicago Country Music Festival. The Petrillo bandshell's inexplicably lame headliner was one of the Big and Rich guys (I did see a nice set by the Flatlanders first) but for my money (the festival was free) the real draw was Alejandro Escovedo.
Grant Park, Chicago IL
Always a Friend
Everybody Loves Me
This Bed Is Getting Crowded
Sister Lost Soul
I Was Drunk
New song (I'm In Love With Love?)
encore: Beast of Burden (Jagger/Richards) featuring Nicholas Tremulis
David Pulkingham, gtr
Hector Munoz, drm
Bobby Daniel, bs
In a little over an hour, Escovedo went from double-barrelled electric guitar rock to lamenting ballads to a Mexican instrumental. He once again proved why he is a national treasure, and in early October he provided a fitting sendoff to the real end of summer.
This show had the intimacy of the shows you hear about in Austin, at Stubbs or Continential Club or Cactus Cafe, during SXSW perhaps. The small stage was under a tent designed to hold 100 or so people, but with almost another 100 watching from the edges. It was a show where at the end of every song I sat up straight in my chair, realizing I'd been leaning forward, straining to absorb every word, every note. I also found it ironic that a representative of US99 (sponsor of the festival) introduced Escovedo, since they probably wouldn't play his music in a million years (charitably you could say because it's too hard to categorize; less charitably you could say because his music is authentic, and good.)
"I Was Drunk" had a neat flavor because David Pulkingham (Escovedo's guitar wiz) still had the Mexican guitar he played during the "Juarez/Rosalie" combo, imbuing the angry/sweet drinking song with a different texture. He debuted a song that he didn't think much of, but the crowd definitely enjoyed it. And that encore .... Escovedo strutted around the stage like a cross between a Chicano Jagger and Jack Black's frontman in the finale of "High Fidelity." I'm not a huge Tremulis fan, but it was clear everyone on that stage was having a lot of fun.
Escovedo was much more open and introspective than I've ever seen him, talking extensively about his father's life as a way of introducing songs from "By the Hand of the Father." For example, I learned that Al's father was a prizefighter during the Depression, and his father (Al's grandfather) was a drinking, abusive man ... Escovedo used the word "mean" to describe him. He also talked about being one of 12 children, eight of whom went on to be professional musicians. Escovedo is neither shy nor effusive, so it was neat to see him chat openly in this setting.
Escovedo also played Grant Park last summer, at the Free Fourth of July concert. But that set list was shorter, and as the opener of a three-band show, it had a more stilted, abbreviated feel. Being up on the Petrillo stage, yards away from the nearest fans, didn't help either.
Grant Park, Chicago IL (Petrillo)
July 4, 2008:
Put You Down
Always a Friend
Everybody Loves Me --Susan Voelz wailed on violin.
Sister Lost Soul
Chelsea Hotel '78
"By the Hand of the Father" Suite: Juarez---> Rosalie
Real as an Animal
Speaking of the Chelsea Hotel, a New York-centric postscript: I remember talking to my sister as she was moving out of Manhattan, and how that experience of life in the city changes you. I told her that the Escovedo song starts out, "I used to live at the Chelsea Hotel, on 7th and 23rd" ... and how a few years ago, I would've just glossed right over that. But I actually heard that line, and processed it, and knew exactly where it was. Because I've walked past the Chelsea Hotel, stopped and read the plaque. I know the streets, I know that neighborhood. Just one of those little ways that life in Gotham changes you.