Liverpool Echo: Jade Wright: 16th June 2015. Photo's By David Munn
Elvis Costello’s last big gigs in Liverpool were part of his Spectacular Spinning Songbook Show tour.
It was certainly a spectacle, involving a giant wheel on the stage on which the names of many of his most famous tunes were written, which audience members were able to spin in the hope of landing on their favourite number.
Then there was the Capital of Culture year show, with full orchestral razzmatazz. Interesting, in its own way, but a long way from what you would expect from a man who, in his own words, began writing songs out of “bitterness and regret”.
With that in mind, you might be looking for a more raw, more real encounter with this musical mastermind whose bitterness and regret can be felt in almost every tune.
“I’m in Liverpool, the city of love and sunbeds,” he proclaimed, as he greeted the packed Philharmonic crowd. “It’s good to be home. I’m going to play only songs about love and happiness.”
He laughed at the very thought, inappenstead giving the crowd some of his beautiful, and most melancholy songs.
From (The Angels Gonna Wear My (Red Shoes) through Accidents Will Happen, Church Underground and Either Side of The Same Town.
His voice – easily the best I’ve heard it – got better with each song, dripping with sublime soul as he soared – and it seemed sawed, such was his vibrato – the high notes.
By the time he got to Oliver’s Army I wanted to get up and punch the air. Except no-one else was standing, and there’s often that difficult dynamic in the Phil. No-one wants to be the first to stand up, for fear they’ll be told to sit down again.
Instead there was much foot tapping and thigh slapping in the seated rows, where rightlt there should have been joyous dancing.
From there it was over to the piano, stopping to tell a funny story about when he worked as a computer operator (in those days operating a computer was a full time job) in Netherton. Huge cheers, as you’d expect. But nothing could match the joy that came for Shipbuilding, the song he wrote with Deaf School’s Clive Langer.
There were tributes to his wife and sons, as well as a beautiful story about the dad who inspired him – and who sang If I Had A Hammer on that famous Royal Variety show line up in 1963, where John Lennon made the quip about the royals rattling their jewellery.
Tonight, Elvis was right back to his roots, playing like his life depended on it.
His earliest numbers were never particularly overblown, and he often relied on a pretty simple arrangement, which really let his voice stand out in all its anguish.
So tonight at The Phil, playing an acoustic set, the tracks pared right back to the bone, his voice and the power and emotion of his lyrics were allowed to step right to the foreground.
This was truly a spectacular show, from a musical legend with a songbook so dizzyingly good it sets your head spinning.
And without the need of an orchestra or a big, sparkly wheel of fortune at all.