Elvis Costello Carnegie Hall

SoundBlab: Kevin Orton: 24th June, 2014

Elvis Costello's debut at New York Citiy's Carnegie Hall was billed as a "solo" show. By solo, it wasn't Elvis sans Imposters or Attractions, but one man alone on stage with 6 guitars and a keyboard. Longtime fan that I am, I didn't quite know what to expect. I have to confess to finding Costello's aim a little more haphazard than true since Blood & Chocolate. While albums like Brutal Youth and When I Was Cruel proved he hadn't quite left the building, all his self-concious genre hopping over the years began to wear thin. My Musical hero had come dangerously close to coming off as a diletante, playing a game of Musical chairs with Attention Deficit Disorder. And while his recent foray with the Roots was his strongest in years, I wasn't expecting him to play much off it. Well, he did. "Come The Meantimes" turned out to be an unlikely audience participation number at one point.

But he certainly delved into his back catalogue. With irreverent aplomb. He introduced one song with, “I’m going to play you a song now that I really hate. I wrote it in 10 minutes, and then it was a hit.” He then did a lonesome, gut wrenching finger picked version of "Every Day I Write The Book" which bore no semblence to it's it's perkier Punch The Clock counterpart. Positively stunning.

More than any other album, Imperial Bedroom figured prominantly with brilliant acoustic versions of "Man Out Of Time", "Beyond Belief", "Town Crier" and a harrowing "Shabby Doll".  A lonesome "Almost Blue" was played on organ/keyboard along with a haunting "Shipbuilding".

While the likes of "Alison" and "Veronica" are to be expected, I was completely caught off guard when he launched into a rare, My Aim Is True outtake, "Poison Moon". A priceless moment for any serious Costello fan. "Less Than Zero" was also a pleasant surprise along with "King Horse". Other highlights included "New Amsterdam" where he playfully segued into the Beatles "Hide Your Love Away" before hitting the last vese, as if to perversly hightlight any similarity.

If his dissonant, dark take on 'Watching Detectives" wasn't blistering enough, it was topped by a positively savage, "I Want You".  National Ransom's "Church Underground" was another welcome slice of Musical Noir.

Another thing this solo show highlighted was what a truely gifted guitarist Costello is. I must say I kind of took him for granted in this arena. While he's no Hendrix or Beck, one could see what a seriously versitile rhythm player he is.

In between songs, Costello's banter was witty and warm, offering up family stories and anecdotes. One song, "Jimmy Standing In The Rain" was about his grandfather, who struggled as a musician during the Depression after much success prior. At one point during this number, he stepped off mic and was heard clear as a bell. What struck me other than the brilliant acoustics of the venue was that the unamplified "mix" in the house was far less muddier than the mic mix. Which is surprising for Carnegie Hall. Costello played a few unfamiliar and new numbers like "Condescention Day"  and "Four More Tears" and frankly, you had to struggle to hear the lyrics. But among the newer numbers, "Last Day Of My Youth" was a true standout.

A rousing, "Peace Love & Understanding" ended the evening, and despite him playing for 2 hours and 45 minutes, you still wanted more.  Now, I've seen Costello before and even once with the Attractions at the Beacon Theatre. And let me tell you, that Beacon show was pretty damn good. This topped them all.  Throughout Costello was in spry, artful form, performing as if a weight had been lifted off him. A truly masterful showman. Binging it all down to a whisper from a scream. An intimate, raucous and inspiring evening.