Access Atlanta: Yvonne Zusel: 20th June, 2014
Sometimes concert crowds are maddeningly indifferent about the act they’ve paid to see, chatting throughout the performance or spending more time looking at their phones than watching the show. And sometimes an audience leaves so little question about their love for the artist that they give every song a standing ovation and hang on every sung word. It was the latter type of evening for Elvis Costello during his Thursday night solo show at the Cobb Energy Centre for the Performing Arts, the first time he’s headlining the Mid-South without a backing band since 1999.
But it wasn’t blind, unquestioning adoration – Costello’s been earning his stripes since he broke onto the scene in the late 1970s, and he certainly proved he knows his way around a song and how to charm a crowd during his two-hour-plus set that gave casual fans some big hits (“Veronica,” “Watching the Detectives”) and some interesting B-sides and covers (“Jack of All Parades,” Richard Thompson’s “Withered and Died”)
Costello, who has said he often comes up with a playlist for his solo shows on the spot, told the crowd he planned to play songs of “love and deceit.” His catalog has those in spades, from the sweet, sad “Either Side of the Same Town” and “Poison Moon” to a quirky mashup of his 1980 tune “New Amsterdam” and the Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.”
While there’s something to be said for hearing Costello’s lush lyrics sung over music provided by the big sound of a full band, there’s also something to be said for hearing the stripped-down versions, with Costello’s distinctive voice and impeccable guitar (and, in the case of “Shipbuilding,” keyboard) as the main attraction. His voice – weathered and telling the story of a man who’s been singing his heart out on stage for nearly 40 years – gives new life to songs we’ve heard hundreds of times when it becomes the focus. “Everyday I Write the Book” with The Attractions is fun and poppy; as sung by a solo Costello, it becomes a little quieter and a little sweeter.
Of course, Costello isn’t all musical genius – he’s charming stories and fun repartee, too. “I can tell I’m back in the South,” he said after an “Elvis is King!” was shouted from the crowd. “I was getting disappointed. I thought you’d become shy and retiring.” He also told a story about his father going from playing standards to becoming a hippie and talked about how he wrote the new song “The Last Year of My Youth” the day before he filled in for Lana del Ray after she canceled a scheduled appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
Local sisters Larkin Poe – who provided a stellar opening set in advance of their first studio album – joined Costello during his first encore, with Rebecca Lovell's vocals meshing nearly perfectly with his on the plaintive, aching "Love Field" and Megan Lovell playing a mean lap steel guitar on "My Little Blue Window."
It was a night that served as a reminder of Costello's versatility -- playing solo or with others, on his own songs or on covers, he's one of the few artists for whom it doesn't seem like a ridiculous idea to give a standing ovation after every song.