One of my friends won tickets for Elvis Costello‘s concert on Sunday, April 3, 2016 at the Theatre at Ace Hotel and I got to be her plus one. Early in the week I had been checking to see if there were tickets to either of his shows that weekend, but they were sold out. So this was an unexpected, but exciting opportunity to see a music legend. I have to admit to being only a casual fan of Elvis Costello, having liked most things I’ve heard from him, but never getting around to purchasing an album. Actually, I was thinking of adding some of his music to my collection a few months ago, but was daunted by his back catalog (30+ albums) and clueless as to what to start with. Having now seen him in concert and gained a glimpse of his body of work, I have a much better idea of which albums I would prefer.
Entering the theatre the stage had a set on it — a retro TV set — and looked as if we were at a theatrical production. The screen was showing a slew of Elvis Costello’s old music videos and during the show would be used to embellish songs with photographs and slogans. There was a “Detour” sign for the name of the tour and an “on air” sign. A few guitars were set up on stage with some empty stands for more and a baby grand piano graced stage right. We were seated in the balcony along with other ticket winners, who were polite and interested, but not quite as enthusiastic as the fans in the orchestra seats.
The opening band, Larkin Poe, was made up of two sisters who rock their southern roots music — Rebecca and Megan Lovell. They played a short, powerful set with Rebecca on electric guitar and kick drum and Megan on lap steel. Their soulful voices blended superbly as they broke out their first song, “Hey Sinner.” They introduced the next song as, “Our girl empowerment song.” Their harmonies were seamlessly intertwined on the cover of Ram Jam’s “Black Betty.” Unfortunately, I missed much of the third song as there was some mix up in the seating that required us to check in back at the box office (and then we got to head back up the stairs to our seats in the balcony, no change having been made to our seating). The next song,”Blunt” appears on their new album Reskinned, which includes a few new tracks as well as re-imaginings/new productions of songs from their first album, Kin. The song was delivered with lively lead vocals and sparse musical accompaniment. Then they played “Trouble in Mind” also from the latest album. This song made me wish they had at least a drummer, but other instruments too, backing them as the vocal and guitar performance are so powerful, I was itching for a fully scored arrangement to take this song over the top. Their final song was a nicely interpreted cover of a tune penned by Sonny Bono, “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).” It was a short set, but the ladies returned to the stage during Elvis’s encores as his backing band.
Elvis Costello played a generous length of time that night — over two and a half hours of music spanning across and weaving through his collected works, as well as incorporating some covers. I didn’t know what to expect going into the show, but I was not expecting him to be solo for much of the first 16 songs of the night. Yet, he carried those songs on his lone shoulders well. Stripped down to a guitar or piano and the vocal allowed the lyrics of the songs to shine. He took breaks between songs to explain the songs origins and inspirations or to divulge the circumstances he was in when he was developing or performing the songs in the past. It felt like I was getting a lesson in the history of Elvis Costello’s discography and songwriting, which was fine with me, as I love to listen to personal stories. The concert seemed like it would be a fine supplement to Elvis’s recent autobiography, Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink. Some of the stories he related included the origin of “Accidents Will Happen;” working with Allen Toussaint in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina; his grandfather’s experiences in and immediately following World War I; his father, Ross MacManus, who worked as a radio singer and performed in the same Royal Variety Performance as The Beatles in 1963; and his own start in performing live music.
The set that night was as follows:
- “Lipstick Vogue” from This Year’s Model
- “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” from My Aim is True
- “Accidents Will Happen“from Armed Forces
- “Ascension Day” (written with Allen Toussaint) from The River in Reverse
- “Church Underground” (link is from a stop on the Detour tour) from National Ransom
- “45” from When I Was Cruel
- “Radio Soul” from his Flip City Demos, I’ve borrowed a line from this song for the title of this post
- “She’s Pulling Out the Pin” from The Delivery Man
- “A Matter of Time” video link is from this show, Los Lobos cover
- “Deportee” from Goodbye Cruel World and King of the World bonus track
- “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home” popular written by Roy Turk and and Fred E. Ahlert
- “Ghost Train” from Get Happy!!
- “Shabby Doll” video link to great version with Fiona Apple, from Imperial Bedroom
- “Watching the Detectives” from My Aim is True (US release)
- “I Scare Myself” Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks cover, link to Dan Hicks’s version
- “Alison” from My Aim is True (END OF MAIN SET)
- (FIRST ENCORE, Larkin Poe joins Elvis on stage) “Pads, Paws, and Claws” link shows version with Larkin Poe, from Spike
- “Nothing Clings Like Ivy” from The Delivery Man
- “That’s Not the Part of Him You’re Leaving” link includes Larking Poe, from National Ransom
- “Blame It On Cain” from My Aim is True
- (SECOND ENCORE) “Pump It Up” from This Year’s Model
- “Everyday I Write the Book” from Punch the Clock
- “Good Year for the Roses” George Jones cover, from Almost Blue
- (THIRD ENCORE, Elvis on piano) “Side By Side” standard written by Gus Kahn and Harry M. Woods
- “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down” Sam & Dave Cover, from Get Happy!!
- “Jimmie Standing in the Rain/Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” video link from Detour tour, “Jimmie Standing in the Rain” is from National Ransom
- (FOURTH ENCORE) “(What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” Brinsley Schwartz cover, written by Nick Lowe, from Armed Forces
- “Down on the Bottom” The New Basement Tapes cover, written by Bob Dylan and Jim James, video link is with Larkin Poe
- “All the Rage” from Brutal Youth