For me, this show on EC’s UK Detour tour was a last minute, unplanned and unexpected adventure that was nearly derailed by a threatened train strike. But in the end, the hour’s journey east from London’s Fenchurch Street Station to the banks of the muddy North Sea led to a delightful evening of entertainment from my most beloved entertainer.
Despite the fact that Costello’s public profile is perhaps at its lowest point since his musical chat show Spectacle went dark, Elvis sure seems to be at a great place in life. Even though there have been no records to tour behind since 2010’s National Ransom (other than a handful of shows with The Roots for Wise Up Ghost), he still maintains a steady lucrative life on the road. In fact for quite some time now, like Bob Dylan, EC has pretty much been on a never-ending tour of sorts. Mixing solo dates like this one, with full band shows with the Imposters and occasional one-offs with local symphonies, he sure has found a fun exciting way to make a living. For my taste, these days it seems that the solo shows like the one tonight are the most satisfying.
While EC could easily travel with just a guitar, a piano and his vast catalog of songs, he livens things up with a trailer truck full of stage props. Among them is a giant television screen which before the show serves to showcase his many music videos, and on which during the show, photos and snippets of his song lyrics are displayed. It later even becomes a second stage from inside which he performs a few numbers.
But when you take away all of the theatrical devices, what remains is one of the most versatile and entertaining performers today working a concert stage. Supported by his skillful acoustic guitar playing and enough ability to work his way through the piano, EC is quite adept at the one-man show. (However, tonight did offer him the personal delight of having his opening act and half-brother Ronan to join him for a few numbers.) Costello is also quite the storyteller and loves to make us sort fact from fable. His singing voice, which can sometimes be a struggle, was in top form tonight and as strong as it ever was.
The real attraction of these solo shows though, and what brings the Costello faithful out each and every night (the 1,630 capacity room was tonight about 90% full) is the hundreds of songs in his catalog from which he can choose. Thankfully technology (an iPad full of lyrics and chords) makes any one of them readily available for Costello to sing on a whim or thoughtfully choose when making up his nightly set list.
For the seasoned Costello fan like myself, there are always a few old tired songs that remain in the nightly set list about which I shan’t complain. Like I have always said, as a casual fan, if I went to see someone like Todd Rundgren, I’d be disappointed if I didn’t hear “Hello It’s Me” and “I Saw the Light.” So, the repeat EC fan like me needs to sit though “Alison,” “Pump It Up” and “Watching the Detectives” for the hundredth time if only for that other guy hearing them for the first. (All three tonight however sounded fresh and were welcome.)
But for me and the other hard core fans, we all relished the expected deep dive into the Costello catalog (“Sneaky Feelings,” “No Dancing,” “Hand in Hand” and “Little Triggers”) along with “World’s Great Optimist,” a song written long ago with Aimee Mann that tonight he performed live for the first time ever.
Something quite special for me was Costello’s now nightly mash-up of Nick Lowe’s “When I Write the Book” and his “Everyday I Write the Book.” While serving as a subtle reminder that we soon will all be reading the Costello autobiography, the mix was also dedicated to Nick’s old friend and mine, the late great drummer Bobby Irwin.
So along with all my other long-time fans, l will hopefully continue to enjoy these solo shows and see as many of them as I can. Certainly no two nights have been alike, and you never know what songs you might hear for the first time. Long may they come and a welcome to all you first-timers out there!
- Sneaky Feelings
- I Hope You’re Happy Now
- Accidents Will Happen
- Ascension Day
- Church Underground
- No Dancing
- So Like Candy
- Motel Matches
- Shipbuilding (piano)
- World’s Great Optimist (piano)
- The Comedians
- Walkin’ My Baby Back Home
- Ghost Train
- When I Was Cruel No. 2
- Watching The Detectives
- When I Write The Book / Everyday I Write The Book
- Good Year For The Roses
- Oliver’s Army
- Hand In Hand
- Pump It Up
- Side By Side (piano)
- I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down (piano)
- Jimmie Standing In The Rain
- Little Triggers
- I Want You
- (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?
Elvis Costello—Vocals, Guitars and Keyboards
Ronan MacManus—Backing Vocals and Acoustic Guitar (tracks 19, 20 & 30)
Luke Dolan—Acoustic Guitar (track 30)