NewsOK: Nathan Poppe: October 7th 2016.
Elvis Costello wants his concert to be a living thing.
The English singer- songwriter, 62, will bring his “Detour” concert to Oklahoma for a second time Monday night. Along with it comes a continuing Costello family tradition of performing live that stretches back to his musical grandfather, a huge stage prop shaped like an old-school TV set and stripped-down interpretations of iconic material spanning Costello's 40-year career.
“I'm there on my own, so you're hearing them the way I would have first played them to the band, and in some cases you're hearing ... something I understand about the song now that I maybe didn't understand when I first wrote it,” Costello said in a phone interview with The Oklahoman. “The humor or the sadness in the songs strikes me a different way, and that's how it comes out, and that's how it stays alive ... instead of a recitation of the past.”
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer's retrospective solo tour overlapped with his recently released memoir “Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink.” You might hear some of the same stories, but there's a big difference between the two. When writing, Costello searched inward. Onstage, he's reaching outward to connect with an audience.
“You're not up there giving your confession,” he said. “In the book, you can look at memories in a different way, and if you've seen any of the book, you'll know it doesn't proceed in a chronological order. So much of it's driven by the way the memories link up and, of course, on the stage what's very different is you're singing these songs. People have their own memory of them, so they're not looking into you telling a tale.”
The “Detour” set is rooted in the past, but Costello said he doesn't aim to be nostalgic. His stage helps.
Any image can get thrown on Costello's TV backdrop. He uses this to again connect with his audience and to share musical mementos he's discovered while touring. It also keeps Costello from missing home.
“Last time we played in Oklahoma we played in Tulsa at Cain's Ballroom. ... I think it was Bob Wills' 110th birthday, and so Bob went up on the screen,” Costello said. “When we're playing in Memphis, you might put Al Jackson Jr. on the screen, to see how many people really light up when they see that face. It's nothing to do with the song I'm singing. I'm just acknowledging that this is music I love.”
Maybe Oklahoma-born jazz trumpeter Chet Baker will get a shout out Monday. Costello met Baker during a short-notice '80s recording session in London, which led to the recording of the song “Shipbuilding” and opened up Baker to a new audience. Costello remembered sitting down with the Okie for an interview.
“He had some hard times, he had some serious problems with addiction, and at different times it took him way down,” Costello said.
“He talked about Oklahoma, he talked about his upbringing, the difference in the musical scene where he came from to the music that he dreamed of playing. ... It's a story that pops up in a few of my tunes, the idea that you maybe have to go a little far from home to do the thing that you want to do. You might even need to change your name, change your style or your way of living.”
Or maybe Oklahoma City-based rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson might be a fit for Costello's big screen.
“I know, she's wonderful,” Costello said. “I was on the bill with her a couple of years ago at Newport Folk Festival and watched her set, standing on the side stage of Pete Seeger, which is not something everybody can say. It was a pretty great moment. We've sung ‘Crying Time' together, which I recorded with her. What a great singer she is.”
A different festival set connected Costello with his “Detour” opening act, Larkin Poe. Rebecca Lovell and Megan Lovell front the roots rock act and met Costello at MerleFest several years ago. The North Carolina festival honors Doc and Merle Watson. Costello said the Atlanta- based sisters stole the show, and he hasn't stopped inviting them onstage since.
“They're writing some really good songs, and we've ended up bringing some tunes into the light that I probably wouldn't have played if I was up there on my own,” Costello said. “Things that involve vocal harmony and a couple of songs, like one of the songs I wrote for the record of Bob Dylan lyrics ... and now we've been doing that song in the show. Every night we do it, people like just seem to love it, because it's got such an emotional feeling. It's good to have a show where there's something you can only hear in the theater, then you feel like you really got your money's worth, because you hear the tunes that you bought the ticket to hear, I'm going to play you those ones, and I'm going to play you a few you haven't heard. And they're good ones.”
Costello is also mixing in songs from an upcoming musical re-imagining of the 1957 film “A Face in the Crowd.” The movie starred Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal and Walter Matthau. Playwright Sarah Ruhl is teaming up with Costello on the adaptation.
“Usually you wait until opening night to play the songs but I took the decision with permission of my colleagues to debut the songs in my concerts, and again, the reaction that we've had night to night has been so encouraging. I share a couple of those songs with Rebecca and Megan. They've taken a bold step, stepping forward and singing brand-new songs with me. I would really honestly say don't miss their set. Make sure you get there to hear their show, too.”