In the late 80’s, two of the best pop songwriters ever to grace this planet got together to co-write songs. As far as collaborations went, one of them came to the table having been half of the greatest pop songwriting partnership of all time. The other had grown up as a huge fan of the other and would later embark upon a wide range of future musical collaborations. While I’m sure it was a challenge for both, the results of the meeting of these two Macs, former Beatle Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello (born Declan MacManus), was nothing short of a success.
Tonight’s brief matinee show at The Basement was the brainchild of Murfreesboro pop musician Seth Timbs (Fluid Ounces) who brought along a few of his friends for this tribute to the Mac & Mac co-writes. The players included a rhythm section behind Timbs’ keyboards and guitars supported by three guests who shared vocals with the host and bandleader.
My reading of the near capacity Basement crowd registered it more Beatle-centric than Costello, although I of course came more from the other side the pairing. Regardless of which side you were on, the pre-show chatter was bubbling with excitement since just about everyone in the room shared a common passion for these seldom-heard songs. In total there are fourteen McCartney, MacManus compositions; twelve of which appeared over a smattering of their individual releases and two of which are known only through a widely-circulated illicit bootleg of demos.
Shows like this are why I love living in Music City where there is time and space for musicians to get together and act like fans. Accompanying Timbs tonight and giving his idea instant credibility was Bill Lloyd. The former country star and current local Pope of Pop has made an art form of covering classic rock albums with his local Long Players ensemble.
Timbs started the musical proceedings with two songs from McCartney’s 1993 Off the Ground record: a solo piano version of “The Lovers That Never Were” followed by “Mistress and Maid” with the rhythm section. He then went to Costello’s 1989 Spike record for a piano-based “Pads, Paws and Claws,” a song Costello mostly performed solo on acoustic guitar.
Lloyd then joined the fray first addressing the music geeks in the room by asking how many of us knew the next song, “Tommy’s Coming Home” from the bootleg. Following a lively version of it with Timbs on acoustic guitars, the band then joined in for this listener’s favorite song of both the night and the Mac & Mac collaborations: “My Brave Face,” an under-appreciated single from Paul’s 1989 Flowers in the Dirt record.
The deep soulful-singing of Jeff Keeran next took over for two songs: “So Like Candy” from Elvis’ 1991 Mighty Like a Rose LP and the mournful dirge “That Day is Done.” The latter is the lone song to have been released by both artists: Paul on Flowers in the Dirt and Elvis on a version he sung on a 1997 release by Nashville gospel institution The Fairfield Four.
Timbs then returned to the vocal front for perhaps the most-surprising song of the evening, a frolicking version of the bouncy “Playboy to a Man” from Mighty Like a Rose. The evening’s final guest, fellow Murfreesboro musician, Matt Mahaffey (Self), continued in the Costello vein with the biggest hit to result from the Mac & Macca team, “Veronica” from Spike. The song remains today as EC’s most successful single, peaking at #19 in America.
At this point, the band closed things out with a slight but related diversion: a Keeran-led all-hands-on deck rendering of Costello’s 1977 well-known “Watching the Detectives.”
I must say that this night was perhaps the best 45-minutes of music I have heard all year. Hats off to Seth Timbs for spawning this clever conceptual show. I’d love to see more events like this geared to us passionate music fans.
As for the two Macs, perhaps the question most asked around tonight’s set was “Why didn’t these two release a record together?” Maybe it had something to do with the fact that things were just not as easy to get done back then. Those big labels (Paul on Capital and Elvis on Warners) just couldn’t react as quickly as things can be done these days. Or maybe the simple answer is that the pair just didn’t want to do it. Hopefully, the Costello autobiography due later this year will shed some further light on this brief but fruitful fragment of rock music history.
- The Lovers That Never Were (Seth Timbs)
- Mistress and Maid (Seth Timbs)
- Pads, Paws and Claws (Seth Timbs)
- Tommy’s Coming Home (Seth Timbs and Bill Lloyd)
- My Brave Face (Seth Timbs and Bill Lloyd)
- So Like Candy (Jeff Keeran)
- That Day is Done (Jeff Keeran)
- Playboy to a Man (Seth Timbs)
- Veronica (Matt Mahaffey)
- Watching the Detectives (Jeff Keeran)
Seth Timbs—vocals, keyboards, electric & acoustic guitars Justin Oscar Cary—bass
Bill Lloyd—vocals and electric guitar
Jeff Keeran—vocals and keyboards
Matt Mahaffey—vocals acoustic guitar and keyboards