Alejandro Escovedo – that’s all I knew about the True Believers when KEXP’s lineup for SXSW at Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop was first announced. OK, then someone mentioned it was his mid 80’s band, a crew that had a brush with fame, but never quite broke through. They had label issues, personnel changes, unreleased albums, the works, a near miss story we have heard all too often that left True Believers an idolized and idealized fond memory for their Austin hometown fans. Decades went by while Escovedo went on to attain solo success and acclaim, but as the heroes’ tale so often goes, an abrupt loss brought the original lineup of Escovedo, brother Javier Escovedo, Jon Dee Graham, Denny DeGorio, and Rey Washam back together again. The band memorialized Austin soundman Brent Grulke with a reportedly astounding and heartfelt reunion last fall, and the seed was planted.
As moving as the made-for-TV storyline is, it’s just a story to me since I did not get to hear them back in the day and didn’t have a point of reference. So when the three guitar assault of Escovedo, Escovedo and Graham hit me, I was knocked on my heels by the powerful Texas rock that defies simple categorization. There’s blues, country, punk, folk, roots, blue collar – but no simple label captures the complexity of this band’s identity. The three guitarists traded lead vocal duties several times, each delivering a soulful performance, while bassist Denny DeGorio and drummer Rey Washam provided backup. They played with the passion and joy of your uncle’s garage band from down the road, an image reinforced by the Mellow Johnny’s backdrop. But make no mistake, these guys are no mere garage band, and their relaxed demeanor belied the powerful soul unearthed by their reunion.
At the end of the show, I felt the emotional release like having been to a dramatic sermon, and by the jubilant faces of the crowd as they trickled out, I wasn’t the only person made into a true believer tonight. I sincerely hope after yesterday’s performance on KEXP, it won’t be long before they visit the Pacific NW. Wow, just wow.