Alejandro Escovedo/Joseph Arthur Trinity-St. Paul's United Church June 16, 2009

Alejandro Escovedo/Joseph Arthur Trinity-St. Paul's United Church June 16, 2009
Photo: Eric Thom
Seeing Joseph Arthur proved an unexpected bonus on this special night in a very special place. For sheer sound quality alone, any run-of-the-mill busker could sound like a million bucks in this venue but, in the hands of Peter Gabriel's golden boy, Arthur -€“ who clearly brings his own die-hard fans to the table, his ominous, poetic brooding was beyond illuminating. Sadly, he barely teased us with the potential of the guitar histrionics he's capable of.

As for an opportunity to enjoy a stripped down, acoustic encounter with Alejandro Escovedo, there could be no better place than the intimate confines of this Toronto landmark. Ably supported by longtime cohort, violinist Susan Voelz, and relative newcomer, guitar wunderkind David Pulkingham, Escovedo used the chamber-like setting to showcase recreations of career highlights with an emphasis on breathtaking rearrangements of the Visconti-rock creations birthed on his recent Real Animal. Yet this was no mere acoustic treatment of larger songs.

The always-passionate Escovedo, buoyed by the crowd's enthusiastic response, began from the floor with an unamplified rendition of "Five Hearts Breaking" and continued, between selections and throughout the course of the evening, with an oral history of his life. "Always A Friend" and The Boxing Mirror's "Deer Head on the Wall" ("one of the most depressing albums ever") blended with a molten version of "Everybody Loves Me", coaxing a slashing, lethal solo from Voelz as both Pulkingham and Escovedo assaulted the song with their guitars.

The mood shifted with a song giving life to the lost souls that have dogged Escovedo along his musical road trip, with a dedication of "Sister Lost Soul" to his recently departed friend and oft-producer, Stephen Bruton. What followed was a fragile deconstruction of the powerful new song, hinged on the delicate harmonies of all three singers, as guitars and violin simulated a chamber orchestra, given the lush acoustics of the church.

From revisiting the Spanish instrumental "Juarez" -€“ beautifully rendered by Pulkingham, to "Rosalie", Escovedo's ebb and flow of delicate silences to punk-fueled roars ruled the evening of elegant moments and rock-hard textures. George Bush's favourite, "Castanets" and another rock'n'roll casualty song, "Chelsea Hotel '78", proved what everyone already knew: that Escovedo and company play music that has more to do with heart and soul than anything defined by the volume controls of their equipment. Forced to return by a thunderous response, an encore began with Ian Hunter's "I Wish I Was Your Mother" and closed with the lovely "Swallows of San Juan" making this a church service to remember.