The National: Lucy Barnard: 3rd May, 2014
As a married couple who hail from Britain and Canada but live in New York, it was perhaps fitting that Elvis Costello and Diana Krall chose expatriate-tastic Dubai as the venue for their first major gig together, held on Friday at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre.
After a decade of a high-profile marriage in which the pair write and record together, they topped the bill at the new Blended festival as a long-awaited musical union.
Costello was up first, wowing the crowds with acoustic versions of his extensive back catalogue dating to his heyday as an angry young man of 1970s punk.
The 59-year-old maestro churned out the hits – starting with a pared-down version of his 1977 (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes and blending into the 1979 crowd-pleaser Accidents Will Happen.
“I don’t know which songs to play, so I’m just going to play them all,” Costello told the crowd before launching into Veronica, a tune he wrote with Paul McCartney in 1989, and then a stunning rendition of his 1981 classic Good Year for the Roses.
“I’d like to introduce you to my special guest – it’s me,” Costello joked, referring to the fact that his set consisted of just him and four guitars.
Costello’s unique and powerful voice filled the sultry Dubai night as he segued seamlessly from the 1981 hit New Amsterdam into a cover of The Beatles' You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away. From there it was a cover of the 1930s jazz standard Walkin' My Baby Back Home, a song he said he likes to sing when far away from home, and then his own 1999 song She.
Although lacking a backing band, Costello brought along a handful of effects pedals, which he used to create loops, setting up a wall of noise over which he sang his 1977 reggae song Watching the Detectives – complete with his own police loud speaker with his name on it.
Costello completed his set with the climactic (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding.
Next up, Krall’s set, with Steinway piano and a talented jazz-backing band, was no less lacking in hits. Starting with the 1964 bossa nova Summer Samba and then the 1933 classic Let’s Fall in Love, Krall and her band showed the Dubai crowd that they could get the party going just as much as hubby.
Where Costello relied on his distinctive voice and a string of big hits to carry his set, Krall was all about technical brilliance, each note timed to blend perfectly with her breathy, mellow voice.
Krall slowed things down with a melodious rendition of Julie London’s 1955 hit Cry Me A River and the 1926 jazz standard 'Deed I Do, followed by a sultry-smooth version of Burt Bacharach’s The Look of Love.
“It’s a family show tonight,” Krall told the delighted audience as she dedicated another jazz standard, Exactly Like You, to the couple’s seven-year-old twin sons Dexter and Frank, who were at school in New York.
Adding that she had spent her first visit to Dubai skiing and shoe shopping all afternoon, Krall went on to perform a solo cover of Bob Dylan’s Simple Twist of Fate, which showed that, just like her husband, Krall could wow the crowd on account of her singing and playing alone.
Crescendoing with a string of popular hits from all eras, Krall simmered with Irvine Berlin’s Cheek to Cheek before ending with a triumphant version of Fly Me to the Moon.
But, in true showbiz style, Elvis had not left the building. As a finale, Costello and Krall performed the 1981 Costello hit Almost Blue, followed by a duet of Dylan’s Wallflower. It was disappointing that Costello messed up the timing on both; what should have been a stirring finish fell a little flat.
“Do you want to go again?” Krall asked a red-faced Costello.
Let’s hope they do.