Christmas with Elvis Costello: killing, cold, and a great catalog

Christmas with Elvis Costello: killing, cold, and a great catalog

Chicago Sun Times: Mark Guarino: 22.12.10


Christmas with Elvis Costello evidently does not include chestnuts roasting, sleigh bells ringing or children singing while dressed as Eskimos. Monday night at the Chicago Theatre, he paid homage to the season but in a way more expected from this acerbic rocker: a song about poisoning the family clan over the Christmas ham and another that imagines winter winds as tentacles coming to get you.


The holiday concert was in part an annual promotion for WXRT-FM (93.1) and also a chance for Costello to perform alone, armed with only his charisma and songbook. Both go far.


The single acoustic guitar in Costello’s hands wasn’t the only instrument in the room. The barest of settings illuminated just how potent his voice is, either reaching a high falsetto on songs like “Either Side of the Same Town,” or commanding a hushed authority on “I Hope,” a song from “National Ransom,” a new album. On the former, as well as “A Slow Drag With Josephine,” another new song, he strolled away from the microphone and sang without amplification. To his credit, the entire theater grew quiet and his voice carried all 3,600 seats.


Songs mixed together casually. “New Amsterdam” turned into a tribute to John Lennon’s melancholia, including passages of “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” and “I’m a Loser.” “Radio Sweetheart” blended into Van Morrison’s “Jackie Wilson Said,” and “So Like Candy” became “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by the Animals. Even “Alison,” saved for near the end, borrowed elements from musicals, “Over the Rainbow” and “Somewhere.”


The familiar became less so through versions that strayed from their originals. On “Watching the Detectives,” Costello created digitized loops from his electric guitar, resulting in layers of sound that in the end wasn’t successful but pried the audience away from expectations. More satisfying were “Beyond Belief,” its dizzying flow of words sounding particularly neurotic, and “God’s Comic,” from the days Costello used to write song portraits inked with deadly black humor.


Then there were those Christmas songs. On “St. Stephen’s Day Murders,” a song he co-wrote with Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains, Costello imagined a deadly family dinner the day after Christmas.


But the greatest contribution to the holiday canon may be “Winter Song,” a song Costello introduced from the late British folk-rock songwriter Alan Hull. The song turns the season on its head, connecting the menace of the winter gales to the personal cold front taking place on city sidewalks each day.


“Do you spare a thought for the homeless tramp who wishes he was dead / Or do you pull the bedclothes higher, dream of summertime instead?” Costello sang quietly, while sitting. With each verse, “Winter comes howling in.”


Then, just a half hour later, exiting into State St. as the first snow of an evening storm fell, it did for real.



The many faces of Elvis Costello: The iconic rocker gave the audience a peek at his many personas

Chicago Tribune: Bob Gendron: 21.12.10


As host of the Sundance Channel's "Spectacle," Elvis Costello gets fellow artists to open up about their creative process, and often perform stripped-down versions of beloved songs. The British singer/guitarist followed his television show's cue Monday during a wide-ranging solo concert at the Chicago Theatre, giving a sold-out crowd a rare glimpse into the intricate workings and bare essentials of his own material.


Never short on ideas, Costello has adopted nearly every imaginable musical guise throughout his 33-year career. Many of these flirtations surfaced during a 140-minute, 29-song set dependent on little more than voice, guitar and periodic loops. Keeping banter to a minimum, Costello embraced myriad roles — clowning minstrel, sincere balladeer, backwater bluesman, street busker, blue-eyed crooner, boxcar-hopping folkie, Dixie-whistling vaudevillian. No matter the style, his timbre seemed immune to age. Occasionally Costello walked away from the microphone, his voice still ably projecting, and capable of emphasizing dramatic impact.



Elvis Costello plays career-spanning Holiday acoustic snow in Chicago

Spinner: Anna Deem: 21.12.10


With large snowflakes projected on the curtains behind him, Elvis Costello took the stage at the Chicago Theatre on Monday night for a sold-out solo acoustic show that was billed as a special "career-spanning once-in-a-lifetime event."


Indeed, Costello lived up to his "consummate showman" title as he stood humbled before the massive audience, which gave standing ovations after nearly every song in his two-hour long set. Decked out in a smart dark gray suit and matching hat, Costello wasted little time chatting with the crowd and instead blazed through most of his set. Kicking his performance off with '(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes,' Costello mixed in classics such as his set list with classics like 'Alison,' 'New Amsterdam' and 'Green Shirt' with newer fare such as 'A Slow Drag With Josephine,' 'Jimmie Standing in the Rain' and 'The Spell That You Cast' from 2010's 'National Ransom.'


"The last time I was in this theater, there was another singer singing after me and I only sang a few songs," Costello said, finally addressing the crowd. "We'll make up for that tonight." The room cheered and Costello launched into 'Veronica,' a song he penned with Paul McCartney for his 1989 album, 'Spike.' After each song, Costello graciously bowed and raised his glass to the crowd, clearly showing how appreciative he was of their dedication.


"So this is where the people in reindeer sweaters come out and dance," Costello joked as he sat down in front of a music stand. Instead of dancers, Costello played 'St. Stephen's Day Murders,' a tongue-in-cheek Christmas tune he co-wrote with the Chieftains in 1991. Trading in his acoustic guitar for an electric one, Costello tore through 'Watching the Detectives' several songs later, extending the solo and transforming the song's reggae melody into a feedback-laden punk rock affair, much to the crowd's delight as they sang along excitedly.


Their voices carried over into the encore, where Costello played over half a dozen songs, including a classic cover of the Animals' 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood.' Although the holiday season isn't over just yet, it was clear as Costello's set wound down that Christmas came early for fans in Chicago.