The Press Democrat: Dan Taylor: March 24th 2016.
Before Elvis Costello takes the stage at Luther Burbank Center on March 29 as part of his “Detour” tour, he shared with us his perspective on his life and career, and his ever-changing relationship with his own music.
After more than 40 years of making music, singer-songwriter Elvis Costello still looks for new ways to make every performance spontaneous and fresh.
His current tour — titled “Detour” — places the British rocker onstage alone most of the time, with a giant screen behind him displaying words and images relating to his lyrics and his life. The tour brings him Tuesday to Santa Rosa’s Luther Burbank Center.
Costello, 61, has been married to pianist Diana Krall since 2003, and their twin sons were born in December 2006. His memoir, “Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink,” was published late last year. Speaking by phone from his home in Vancouver, B.C., Costello shared his perspective on his life and career, and his ever-changing relationship with his own music.
Q: How did you come up with your plan for the “Detour” tour?
The way I think of these stage shows, really, is that they’re a way of framing the songbook, to generate the element of surprise, for me as much as for the audience. I need to guarantee a good night. I don’t want the same predictable set list. The title of the tour suggests that it takes an unusual route through all the songs I have at my disposal.
Q: How has the tour developed over time?
I originally started with the idea that it was like a radio show that was taking place somewhere imaginary. Then I built it around the television you see behind me on the stage, with all sorts of curious images appearing, which are sometimes non sequiturs and other times are actually directly related to the song I’m singing. I added paraphernalia to the set until the stage became the kind of playground I wanted.
Q: It seems a durable concept. The tour goes on and on.
We’ve already covered a lot of miles with this tour. It’s already been to Europe once. It’s going back to Europe again in the summer. This the third or fourth run through North America.
Q: How does this approach help you stay enthusiastic out on the road?
Obviously I could just stand out there at center stage and sing my songs. But now I have three or four positions on the stage, and they all invite a different style of performance. At the center, I have a lot of electrical guitar sounds available to me. I have a piano. I also have a position where I sit down and pick up a small guitar. That’s one of my favorite moments in the show, because it’s the place where I might tell a story.
Q: How did you happen to team up with Megan and Rebecca Lovell of Larkin Poe for this tour?
It’s very extraordinary to me that, as young as they are, I first met them on my first concert after my boys were born, and now they’re nine years old. I didn’t know Larkin Poe’s ages at the time, but obviously they were teenagers, because they’re in their 20s now. Over the past number of years, they opened for me on a few of theses runs, both in America and Europe. And it’s been a real joy singing together, because three quarters of the way through the show, they come out and it changes the approach.
Q: How so?
Because of their age, they’re not granting any false status to the songs because these were once hits, or they’ve grown up with them. They just listen to them as music, and therefore they’ll propose doing a song I had never thought of doing as a trio. And it might turn into something really great. I’m really grateful for that. Having harmony for even a handful of songs leavens my natural tendency to sing incredibly slow songs in minor keys, preferably flat ones ... I’m making a joke, obviously.
Q: Are you drawing from your entire repertoire? Are there any songs you’ve permanently retired?
There are obviously some that wouldn’t work in solo performance. There are some where you absolutely have to have a band. But then a new light is found on some songs just by the act of playing them in solo performance. You might change the tempo ever so slightly, and just by having a different beat, the story I was trying tell is laid out in a different way. I find I don’t have any songs that are completely out of the question. Sometimes someone will ask for something, and I’ll play it and I’ll be surprised what I find in it.
Q: Any specific examples?
People really wouldn’t expect me to play “Beyond Belief,” for example, because that sounds like a band venture, but that has worked as a solo. “When I Was Cruel” turned into something really emotional that was quite different from when I played it as a kind of hypnotic loop. When I played it purely as an acoustic guitar song, it was really something else again. I’ll get on nights when I’ll alight on four or five songs from the “King of America” album, or two or three songs from “National Ransom” or something.
Q: Will you be introducing any new songs on the tour?
I may well do. I’m not going to commit to that, or announce it, because then the pirates will be there with their fingers lurking over the “record” button. Then everything you do is overheard before you’ve got it to where you want it. That’s one of the best ways to discourage recording conventionally. There’s no obligation on my part to release every single thing that I write. I like to know what I’m offering people, and give ‘em a square deal. I might do something expectedly, but you won’t know when it’s coming.
Q: Are you continuing to write new songs on a regular basis?
I have written a phenomenal amount of songs over the last four years, all of which have been for stage musicals, three of them in different states of preparation. It is slightly frustrating to have really good songs you’re dying to play for people, but of course, if you’re writing them for a production, you have to be patient and wait for that opening night.