"Affable Old Gent"

Manchester Evening News: Andy Cronshaw: 11th June 2015

The legendary singer heaves his huge songbook on stage for a night of retrospective brilliance

That Elvis Costello wasn't too far from home territory at the Bridgewater Hall was clearly evident during an evening of nostalgia and retrospective pleasures.

The 60-year-old singer-songwriter spent some of his formative years in Birkenhead before heading back to London where he was eventually marketed, for his first few albums, as an angry young man of the city's so-called new wave scene.

And there seemed to be a little extra Scouse tang to his accent than usual as he held court with his guitars in front of a giant vintage TV set.

The television displayed a test card - something which only people of certain age will remember.

Overlain the screen were pictures highlighting memories of his childhood, his musical and cultural influences as well as old snaps of his family.

The concept worked well as Costello stitched his songs into a narrative of recollections and anecdotes.

I'd mentioned to an Elvis Costello fan before the gig that I needed to do a little homework on his songbook. Some cribbing - it weighs in rather heavily at almost 600 tunes.

Even though it was never going to be easy to second guess his selection, Costello seems happy to make sure he presses the right buttons as far as his well-known material goes.

Angry young man turned affable old gent.

Hence we were guaranteed some of the early classics, Accidents will Happen, the opener, and an up-tempo Green Shirt three songs in.

Deep Dark Truth Mirror, from his 1989 album Spike, was delivered in his classic hard-hitting vocal style - impassioned and willfully brutal.

Oliver's Army was followed by a down-tempo version of the classic Shipbuilding as he took to piano to give the tune a left-field dimension and an eerie coda.

But among the well-known hits, he'd specially selected geographically attuned segments for the audience, such as the James Ray tune If You've Got to Make Fool of Somebody, famously covered by Manchester's Freddie and the Dreamers.

He drew the line however at requests; responding to one outburst with the cheeky repost: "I'm sorry I don't know any Smiths songs."

The most entertaining story of the night was his recollection of seeing his father in the 1963 Royal Variety Show and how his dad went on to tour working mens clubs singing Ray Stevens' 'Everything is Beautiful'.

Costello's self-proclaimed status as the rock'n'roll's scrabble champion was nowhere better illustrated than a melding of Nick Lowe's When I Write the Book with his own 1983 hit, Every Day I write the Book.

Both seem to echo Richard Rodgers' I Could Write a Book most famously sung by one of Costello's heroes, Frank Sinatra.

The appearance of support act, sisters Larkin Poe, heralded the 'Americana' element of his work which first appeared in the early 80s through his collaborations with T-Bone Burnett - years before the term Americana had even been invented.

The song Nothing Clings Like Ivy was nicely illuminated by Megan Lovell's steel pedal guitar, while, That's Not the Part of Him You're Leaving, came across like a timeless Country classic.

Several encores were greeted by ecstatic standing ovations and the songs were given extra gusto as Costello appeared inside the TV box to sing the old stalwarts, Alison, and the rock satire, Pump It Up.

If there's any criticism I could make it would be the way he tends to belt out songs too forcibly at times and this was no more evident than with Jerry Chestnut's Good Year for the Year For the Roses - a tune that he sings in tribute to George Jones without ever really recapturing the Country legend's briliance.

All-in-all, however, it was a great night and I can't imagine that anyone went home feeling in any way short-changed.