Elvis Costello makes long-overdue return to Calgary

Calgary Sun: Gerry Krochak: December 10th 2016

Elvis was in the building.

Call it an early Christmas present for fans, or a wonderful gift in support of the Owen Hart Foundation … either way, it was difficult not to feel the warm glow inside the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium on Saturday night.

From punk to pub rock, everything in between and everything on the outside, Elvis Costello has always got away with doing whatever he wants because, well, he’s good at all of it.

That and, despite his near-legendary status, he prefers to toil on the periphery. His greatest expectations have always begun and ended with himself — we’ve just been along for the wonderful ride, which has now lasted 40 years … and counting.

Following the eloquent words of Dr. Martha Hart to open this special evening, the now-62-year-old former Declan Patrick McManus, smiled broadly while receiving a long, warm, enthusiastic welcome … merely for walking onto the Jube stage. Now, that’s respect!

While it’s true we’re all aging at the same clip, it wouldn’t take long to understand that some are just doing it more gracefully and joyfully than others.

On a clean, well-lit stage featuring a giant old-school television, and littered only with a baby grand piano and about a half dozen guitars, Costello spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, launching into 1977’s (Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes, as well as Poison Moon and While Accidents Will Happen at the front end of a set that would clock in at two hours.

“It seems like just yesterday,” Costello mused, taking a good, long look around his surroundings. “But it’s been 38 years last I last stood on this stage.”

The wide range of admirers (20- and 30-something hipsters, and, mostly, 40- and 50-something musos who were there when new wave and punk were a thing) hooted and hollered while embracing the past and the present.

In keeping with a career of perpetual musical motion, Costello finds new ways to play old songs — his own, or those of others.

His sparse arrangement of Ascension Day gave it an emotion not even felt within the grooves of the 2006 Allan Toussaint collaboration, The River In Reverse (on vinyl, of course), while Everyday I Write The Book from 1983’s Punch The Clock leaped from the PA with the (albeit quieter) intensity of his late ’70s new wave and punk halcyon days.

The unpredictable set list ebbed and flowed through Church Underground, the piano-fuelled melancholy of Shipbuilding and Deep Dark Truthful Mirror from 1989’s Spike, in each case, and in a Dylan-esque manner, regurgitating old lyrics in new, interesting ways, which he sees fit. True artistry isn’t so easily defined or explained in 2016, and often Costello proves that it doesn’t need to be.

Bespectacled (of course) and looking sharp in a black suit and jaunty red hat, his constantly entertaining stories and child-like curiosity of music history is evident through everything from the (thus far) unreleased gems, No Man’s Woman and A Face In The Crowd, to the 1930 Roy Turk-penned jazz number Walkin’ My Baby Back Home and the electric burst of 1977’s Watching The Detectives.

In a rare bout of true nostalgia, many 40-something fans in attendance remembered why they fell in love with Veronica — a terrific interpretation. Some crushes just never go away.

(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding … on this night, absolutely nothing at all.

The Owen Hart Foundation is a tremendous organization for which all Calgarians can be extremely proud. Its mandate, “providing opportunities for hard-working people who have limited resources and unlimited potential,” is the bountiful cake.

Last night’s opportunity of an unforgettable evening with a world-class artist is the best icing Costello fans, and music fans in general, could ever have hoped for.

It was, indeed, a Merry Christmas wish for us all.