“Two guys with guitars?”
That was the skeptical reaction of a friend as I was convincing him to check out Friday night’s show at The State Room featuring Alejandro Escovedo and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo.
Two hours later, having witnessed the two trading songs and stories for an enraptured audience, the same words came through, but this time as an exclamation of the quality of what my friend had just seen.
“Two guys with guitars!”
The show was one of only two Escovedo and Hidalgo are doing together, but the crowd’s reaction Friday seemed to surprise both of them, inspiring Hidalgo to ask at one point, “Would you come see us again?”
Silly question. Both Escovedo and Hidalgo, with Los Lobos, are headlining regular visitors to Salt Lake City. And the quality of the songs that might be included in Friday’s show was in no doubt. The only question going in was how the two would re-arrange the songs to fit their simple two voices/two guitars set-up.
The answer? A little bit of “unplugged,” a little loose jamming, and a whole lot of smiles from both men as they played.
They opened the show while recovering from a “mole coma,” having visited Red Iguana before the gig. As a result, Hidalgo said the first set would be sort of “dreamy,” and indeed it was. They stuck to acoustic guitars throughout most of the first set, opening with Hidalgo singing the Los Lobos classic “Will the Wolf Survive?” and Escovedo’s “Sally Was a Cop” following after, a song from his latest album Big Station.
Hidalgo’s entrancing take on “La Pistola y El Corazon” was an early highlight; Escovedo introduced the song describing a long-ago Austin gig when his old band Rank & File played with Los Lobos, then simply sat back and watching Hidalgo’s masterful playing and spirited vocals. The duo followed with a song from another of Escovedo’s old bands, the True Believers’ “Rebel Kind,” and then Los Lobos’ “The Valley” and Escovedo’s “Rosalie.”
The second set had both men going electric, and the performances shifted from stately and emotional to more raucous and loose. It was a blast to see Hidalgo lean into some scorching solos, and to see Escovedo respond with some righteous riffing of his own. Songs like Escovedo’s “Chelsea Hotel ’78″ were brilliant, as was his “Sister Lost Soul,” which they dedicated to Red Iguana’s Ramon Cardenas.
The remainder of the show provided stunning song after stunning song, with the two chatting more with the crowd as the night moved along. Escovedo’s “Castanets” and “Always a Friend,” and Hidalgo’s “The Neighborhood” were a few of the highlights of the second set.
Ultimately, the show was a resounding example of what two guys with two guitars can do on stage when the songs are as good as those penned by Escovedo and Hidalgo. They played longer than I expected, and I never wanted it to end. I’ll always go see Escovedo or Los Lobos when they come to Salt Lake City on their own, but I’ll dream of the chance to see Escovedo and Hidalgo play together again.