Reverb. Marc Hobelman. 2nd March 2015
Elvis Costello kicked off his “Detour Tour” on Sunday at the Boulder Theatre. This first stop in the U.S. leg sold out in only one hour. Needless to say, Coloradans have been hungry for more of the man since he’s spent limited time here in the last decade. This particular outing takes Costello through the midwest and the south as he powers through an immense set essentially by himself.
As soon as fans were finding their seats, the gigantic CRT television set on stage began looping through the videos of beloved songs from Costello’s equally gigantic catalogue. Some of the early songs shown during this preshow off of his first three releases received a collective “Aww…” sigh from the audience as they realized that he’d likely not be playing those as part of the main set. To their delight, however, Costello managed a near-30-song-long set list with room for captivating narrative. Most of his fascinating, conversational storytelling referenced his musical family ties and the impact they’ve had on his life. The theme of the show swirled around nostalgia and pride as he trotted out favorites from his long solo career and several covers, homages and hits from his many collaborations.
The main set saw Costello alone on stage switching between acoustic guitars, oscillating from ballads like “Shipbuilding” to rockers like “45,” which had a layer of extra electric guitar piped in from off stage. After sitting down, creating an even more intimate setting using only one microphone for both his voice and guitar, he played “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home” before telling a fantastic story about his dad. Ross McManus died during the production of a BBC documentary on Costello (born Declan McManus). This led to Costello finding high quality archival footage of his father’s larger than life music career. In Costello’s telling, he talks about the night McManus led the Joe Loss Orchestra in a Latin dance version of “If I Had a Hammer” in front of the Queen Mother. This was the Royal Command Performance of 1963 where John Lennon said the people watching were welcome to clap along and the rich folks in the balcony were welcome to “rattle their jewelry.” Costello then played a Pub Rock song called “Ghost Train” as an example of the types of gigs in mining villages where he learned his best chops from his father.
Standing back up and strapping on the hollow body electric, Costello used a looping pedal to great effect in a long, loud version of “Watching the Detectives.” “And now I’ll play a song I hate,” he playfully riffed before starting “Every Day I Write the Book.” Here came the first set break before he brought back on Georgian sister-duo Larkin Poe to back him for seven more songs. He met the pair through industry connections, and their first real time spent together was at a recording session for the Bob Dylan archival revival project “The New Basement Tapes.” Rebecca and Megan Lovell provided great mandolin and slide guitar chops plus solid vocal harmonies that beefed up Costello’s stage sound while sometimes distracting from his spectacular lead singing voice. But Costello is nothing if not an experimental collaborator who goes to great lengths to play with musicians he respects. They ended with “Six Months in Kansas City” which is a ‘Basement Tapes’ track on which Megan’s mandolining appears.
This set break showed the actual footage of Ross McManus’ performance of “If I had a Hammer” on the big TV with no introduction. At first it was hard to tell that it wasn’t Costello himself in the video. The effect was amazing and suddenly the “screen” of the television was gone and the lights came up on Costello standing inside the box with an electric guitar behind a 1950s era microphone. Visually striking and reminiscent of his first album cover, he proceeded to knock out more hits. “Pump it Up,” “This Year’s Girl” and “Alison” brought the house down bigger than at any other moment in the show. Looking at the people in the removable Boulder Theater seats and the lone man in a cardboard box puppet show who mesmerized them solidified the feeling of grandiose awe. Elvis Costello is one of the greatest songwriters and performers that has ever lived and he is out to show that fact on this tour, the best showcase of his talent to date.
Elvis Costello at the Boulder Theater set list:
(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes
All These Strangers
Watch Your Step
Either Side of the Same Town
Come the Meantimes
Song about a woman “staying with wicked men” cut from broadway musical
collaboration with Burt Baccarat based on “Painted by Memory”
Walkin’ My Baby Back Home
Wave a White Flag
Watching the Detectives
Everyday I Write the Book
Pads, Paws and Claws
Blame It on Cain
Lost on the River #12
Six Months in Kansas City
Pump It Up
This Year’s Girl
Man Out of Time
(What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding