Elvis Costello has been a bucket list concert for me for a long time. I only recall one other opportunity I had to see him: I was in college and in Atlanta for a conference and had other obligations.
Thursday night, I finally got a chance to see him in concert, at Hoyt Sherman Place, a much more intimate setting than I’m sure the Atlanta show would have been.
“It kind of makes me wish I hadn’t spent so many years not coming here,” Costello said slightly before the end of his main set, before saying he would be back.
Costello’s Detour tour isn’t filled with his biggest hits. It’s just him on stage with an assortment of guitars, a piano and a bit of ukulele. I’ll spoil things now by saying “Pump it Up” and “Radio Radio” were not performed. I think the singer adequately set the town early with a more downbeat version of “(Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes.”
This wasn’t a & the Attractions or & the Imposters. It was just Elvis, with all his solo strengths (and a few weaknesses).
It was a night of talking, but not at the expense of songs. Costello shared a lot of stories, like a brief infatuation with a cab driver that ended when she sought out a station playing Pink Floyd when he wanted to hear The Buzzcocks, inspiring him to write “Accidents Will Happen,” or talking about achieving his goal of working with Allen Toussaint before performing “The River in Reverse.”
There was maybe a bit too much peacocking. After every song he performed on piano, Costello would get up, strutting across the stage while the crowd clapped. He 100% deserved the applause, but at times it felt like it was throwing off the rhythm of the show and detracting a bit from more intimate numbers like “Shipbuilding” and “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror.”
But let’s not dwell on minor annoyances. The show had so many amazing moments, like the main set closing version of “Alison,” where Costello stepped to the front of the stage, away from the mics, to sing the song unamplified. It’s not the kind of experience I could have gotten from a big Elvis Costello show in college.
There were several songs from Costello’s in the works musical “A Face in the Crowd,” which worked well in the concert setting for the musical’s title song, and “Blood & Hot Sauce,” though the “Vitajex Jingle” was a bit odd out of context. Opening act Larkin Poe did add some great harmonies to it, however.
Costello played two encores, returning the first time with the members of Larkin Poe to perform “Blame it On Cain,” “Nothing Clings Like Ivy,” “Clown Strike,” “That’s Not the Part of Him You’re Leaving” and “Burn the Paper Down to Ash,” with Larkin Poe’s Rebecca Lovell taking lead on the latter. The first set closed with the trio joining together for Nick Lowe’s great “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding.”
For the second encore, Costello returned alone to the front of the stage to sing “Jimmie Standing in the Rain” without a mic, before returning to the piano to sing “Don’t Lose Your First Love Looking For The Last Word.”
Before the concert, I was talking with my brother about going to see Elvis Costello. He expressed concern that with a prolific artist like Costello, you’re never going to hear all your favorite songs. I mentioned “Pump It Up” earlier, though I wouldn’t count it as one of my favorites, and it’s hard to imagine that song working on guitar alone. “Radio Radio” is probably my favorite Costello song (I picked it as the theme for my KFMG radio show), and it could work alone on electric guitar (which he did break out for a few songs). But I’m not sweating it not being played.
If I had to pick two songs that were on my wish list, the first would have been “Veronica,” which was the song that introduced me to Costello in the summer of 1989. It’s stuck with me over the years, no doubt helped by the fact that it was co-written with Paul McCartney.
The other would have been “Tramp the Dirt Down,” a bitter ode to Margaret Thatcher’s England. Given Thatcher has been dead for three years now, I certainly didn’t expect it, but given the upcoming election, I could see him feeling it might have some relevance today.
But over the course of nearly 30 songs, Costello touched on pretty much every part of his career. He told great stories, like how is father, Ross McManus, was once played as part of a command performance for Queen Elizabeth, listed higher on the bill than The Beatles (the concert where John Lennon made his immortal “Rattle Your Jewelry” remark).
It was an amazing show in a more intimate setting than I would have ever imagined seeing an artist of this stature. Hoyt Sherman has been killing it on quality shows this fall, with this being one of the most impressive the venue has ever landed.