Alejandro Escovedo meditated — loudly — about an America waking up to its current nightmare at The Egg on Friday, opening up with the bitter “Sally Was a Cop” about a wounded thug of a nation that can’t afford police but kills strangers thousands of miles away.
Not everything on his new “Big Station” album or Friday’s show, largely based on it, was so fiercely angry. But all of it was that strong: rock ’n’roll from a large, loud, impassioned heart. Introducing “Bottom of the World” from the new album, he said it represented a sort of punk rock Rip Van Winkle experience, of a lifelong hard worker recognizing that a life lived according to the rules might not earn the rest he craved.
However, some epiphanies were gentler, sweeter. “San Antonio Rain” recalled his family’s “long vacation” — 45 years — from Texas to California and spoke of displacement and belonging in tender terms. Sometimes songs commented on each other: the “Don’t give up on love” refrain of the new “Can’t Make Me Run” answering the bitter suspicion of “This Bed is Getting Crowded” with its cry “This ain’t love.”
Escovedo calls his band the Sensitive Boys, but this was a different crew from the last show here two years ago — nearly as good but a work in progress. Guitarist Billy White, a more self-effacing player generally than David Pulkingham, came into his own late in the show while drummer Chris Searles was as steady and strong as his predecessor Hector Munoz, locking with bassist Bobby Daniel.
While Escovedo admitted pushing the new album, he offered some crowd-pleasing older numbers, from “Down on the Bowery” about his love for his son from his recent “Street Songs of Love” album to the explosive, vintage “Castanets.”
The show’s most thrilling moments were vintage, too. Few bands of any style, on any night, could have matched the exhilaration of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” surging into “Chelsea Hotel ’78” on Friday. Escovedo led the charge, howling “Dog’s” lyrics into a distorting “bullet” mic, then detonating a wild blast of guitar noise. This excited the previously restrained White into his most assertive, over-the-top and tempestuous playing and the band achieved an exuberant, flat-out tumult.
The Ghost Wolves, a young Texas drums-and-guitar duo, made a mighty punk-rock noise in a powerful opener. Carley Wolf’s helium-chirp voice added irony to grown-up lyrics of loss and disillusionment in the doleful blues “First Love” from their “In Ya Neck” debut album, while her jolting, feedback-drenched guitar channeled George Thorogood jamming with the Ramones and her drumming partner Jonny clattered its rattly three-beat.
In “The Snake and Jake Shake” from the same album, they paid rocking tribute to a New Orleans bar I happen to know is dark but fun, and their music fit that same description.
Their spunky energy engaged the crowd so well they whipped up a noisy singalong in “Gonna Live,” defiant-anthem lead track from “In Ya Neck.”