Elvis Costello summons up drama at the Brangwyn Hall

South Wales Evening Post: Kate Clarke: 12th July, 2014

It was no surprise that Elvis Costello's visit to Swansea's Brangwyn Hall last night showed us a performer whose mastery of light and shade, of the art of surprise, and of the vast palette of musical delights available to one so gifted, was second to none.

Costello has been at the top of his game for decades, and whether you are a devotee of the comforting, complex charms of The Great American Songbook, or whether you favour angular, adrenaline pumping rock n roll, or heart-tugging classic country, Elvis is your man.

He rose above some sound issues at the hall to create a dynamic, gripping set, using all of the musical colours at his disposal.

This being a solo tour, I was half expecting Costello to lean on his gentler bluegrass numbers, but he has so many inbuilt effects and settings on his voice, let alone in the small armoury of pedals at his feet, he had no problem summoning up the drama and the dynamics needed for his all-angles-and-edges rock, even without a band. So we got it all.

An immense version of Watching The Detectives, was the theatrical centre-piece of the night.

Using guitar chord loops, and fuzz and tremolo effects to underline the song’s dramatic lines and to crank up the tension, he led up to a controlled-madness, Marc Ribot-style solo, which summoned up every 60s cop show you have ever loved.

We got Costello in the guise of the faded Vaudevillian too, with a clutch of gently strummed and whistled, mournful character studies, including his lovely Jimmy Standing In The Rain, which was prefaced by the tale of his own grandfather, whose career as a musician on the White Star Line and then for silent movies was scuppered by both the depression and by the talkies. "My grandmother hated Al Jolson until the day she died," he said.

Several encores gifted us a foray into jaunty and lovely 1930s classics like Walking My Baby Back Home, which he handles so deftly, and the night came to a close with rocked up numbers from his vast back catalogue, like Oliver's Army and My Blue Chair. It all made for affecting stuff and it was a reminder, if you needed one, that Costello has written some of the finest songs in the canon of popular music. And he can sing and play them like a demon. We are lucky to have him.