Elvis Costello aims true at Plymouth Pavilions

Western Morning News: Martin Freeman: 25th June 2015

Britain’s greatest living singer-songwriter was back where he started.

This was a set full of songs that included a trio from his 1977 debut album played in the city where it all began.

Well, almost. Costello played his second-ever gig in Plymouth, he told a packed Pavilions crowd, the vast majority of whom were old enough to have been there at the start.

His Detour tour is back to the beginnings, too, with Costello performing most songs solo as if he were trying them out for the first time.

That voice, sometimes a deep, mellow, heavy whisper, at others sailing to the top notes, and frequently a rock’n’roll screech, sounded as good as new.

And the sensibilities and passions that have inspired his output were there as in the early days: songs of protest at poverty and against war mongering dotted the show that was heavy on broken-hearted, bitter-tinged regret.

“I thought I might do a set all about love and fidelity,” a relaxed, funny, chatty Costello teased at the start, before adding, “but it would be a very short show.”

At two hours 20 minutes, with three encores, he delivered quantity too.

The range from the Red Shoes (1977) opener to a taster from Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes, last year’s collaborative album inspired by ‘lost’ Bob Dylan lyrics, spanned his full career, despite all the pared-down, back-to-the-start feel of the show.

The stand-outs included Shipbuilding , beautifully delivered solo with piano, and the contrast between the mock jingoism of Oliver’s Army rocked on electric guitar and the melancholy of Alison on acoustic.

Support act Larkin Poe, an American Deep South roots/ rock band from Atlanta, reappeared in part in the encores, as sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell brought their guitar and vocals, including to Good Year for the Roses and the closing song, (What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.

The latter went down a storm despite – or was it because? – Plymouth is a garrison city.

The greatest challenge of the night was well-received, but less successful. When the album original of Watching the Detectives is a perfect arrangement with the Attractions in tow, what can you do solo?

Costello’s answer was a semi-acoustic guitar take that was heavy on the distortion and drowned the fabulous word play and obscured the imagery.

Nothing is perfect, but the rest of the show was a close as you could get. His aim is true.