Sunday, January 08, 2006

Last night, we went to one of my favorite music venues, World Cafe Live, to see the Alejandro Escovedo Acoustic Quartet (which turned out to be a Quintet), with Amy Rigby opening.

For those of you who don't know, World Cafe Live is a $14MM partnership between
Philadelphia’s WXPN and a 'for profit' business called Real Entertainment Group. What they did was refurbish an old building owned by the University of Pennsylvania into a 'state of the art' music venue / radio studio that houses both an 80-seat cafe with a stage (known as 'Upstairs') and a 350-seat concert hall (known as 'Downstairs'). If you're a music fan, you'll love this place. If you haven't tried it out, and you live within striking distance of Philly, I heartily recommend trying it out.

So... last night, we decide to go early and have dinner there. The show was sold out, but by getting there at 6.30pm, we were able to get two of the closest seats to the stage. While we were waiting for the food to arrive, the general manager, Roger LaMay, came over to our table and introduced himself. The other people at the table had driven down from Albany, NY for the show (4 hours, so they're pretty ardent fans) and so he was filling them in on the background of the venue. One thing that he mentioned that I hadn't heard before was that the intent is to build a chain of 10 similar venues around the country over the next 5 years, with Philly remaining the flagship location. Now if only I can generate some serious wealth from my day job, I now know exactly what I want to do next!

Okay, onto the show. I'd only ever heard a couple of Amy Rigby tracks on WXPN before, so it was a pleasure to see her opening for Alejandro. Most of all, she reminded me of an American version of Kirsty MacColl. Not a bad thing at all in my book, as I always enjoyed her clever lyrics and self-deprecating humor. Amy's set was 8 or so songs and lasted about 45 minutes.

After a very short break, Alejandro took to the stage, along with the rest of the band (two cellos, spanish guitar and violin). Their sound has been described as 'chamber-pop', and for me, that it is too limiting. What we got last night was an eclectic mix of chamber-country, chamber-folk, chamber-blues, and even the lightest smattering of chamber-punk. The crowd seemed to be made up of hard-core fans, and so the performance was very well received. Unfortunately there was the obligatory drunk at the back of the room shouting out song titles (Alejandro very carefully repeated all of them, before adding "very good.. and we won't be doing any of them") and then at one point declaring his love for Alejandro, which was met with "and I love you too".

The set was probably about 1 hour and 45 minutes. I was so transfixed by the music, that I lost all track of time. I did make a mental note to go out and repurchase the Michael Nyman catalog (my ex-wife got custody of those when we got divorced), as I saw a lot of parallels in just how contemporary they both make traditional instruments sound. The band played incredibly well together, with a tightness that comes from putting in a lot of hours on the road. Alejandro gave insights into a lot of the songs as he introduced them, with lots of touching stories on where the songs came from or the impact they'd had on others.


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