Candelabras hanging from the ceiling. Pillows on the floor for people to nestle into. A birthday cake for unsuspecting fans.
And wax dripping on the singer’s head.
Needless to say, the first night of Alejandro Escovedo’s four-night, four-club tour of Chicago was anything but ordinary. The Austin songwriter records for a Chicago label and enjoys his biggest fan-base here, but what made his Hideout show special Wednesday was the atmosphere designed to be as intimate as the songs.
The club was lit only by candlelight and reconfigured so Escovedo and his six-member band played semi-acoustic in the center, snugly surrounded by just 150 people, and playing without microphones.
“This music we’re listening to goes back when there wasn’t electricity,” said Hideout co-owner Tim Tuten before the first song. It indeed made for a show ever rare in these times: the lines blurred between performer and audience so fully, it had the relaxed informality of a campfire session under the stars.
Escovedo’s songs — including from his newest album, “A Man Under the Influence” (Bloodshot), out this week— are seeped in family stories, spirits and loss.
Playing to the level of a whisper, the band played every fiber of the songs with extreme delicacy as if making it up as they were going along. They were cued by Excovedo, giving everything the ramshackle liveliness of The Band’s basement sessions with Bob Dylan.
Given the unusual setting, fans listened with their eyes closed or, in some cases, sang along. A refugee from ’70s punk rock, Escovedo dedicated a song to Joey Ramone and later was joined by Mekons frontman Jon Langford on the Mick Jagger song, “Evening Dress.”
By the time the show ended, a broken guitar turned out to be good fortune: Escovedo ended singing a cappella, an act of solitude in a night of solidarity.