KCMetropolis.org: Mike Alley: October 10th 2016
Elvis Costello performed solo at the Carlsen Center, playing songs from his forty-year career and proving why he is one of THE great contemporary songwriters.
When a show opens with a giant, old-time console TV screen dominating center stage, and the first song is the artist’s music video of a song called “Monkey to Man”, a video featuring dozens of bikini-clad dancers, extras cavorting in cheesy gorilla costumes, and well… you can pretty well figure you’re in for an eclectic concert-going experience.
And “eclectic” is the perfect word to describe Elvis Costello’s Detour concert at Yardley Hall in the Carlsen Center of JCCC last Friday night. Alternating between seven guitars, ukulele and grand piano, and with his trademark vibrato and vocal range, he offered up a retrospective of twenty-nine songs, periodically interspersed with song origins plus stories from his forty-year career and his life. It was interesting, challenging, all-over-the-map stylistically, and proved (even to a semi-fan who is now fully converted) that Mr. Costello is an extraordinary singer-songwriter. The sold-out show had many hard-core fans in the audience, and there were several times the crowd spontaneously leapt to their feet at the end of a song, and deservedly so.
The set list ranged from rocking guitar numbers, some from his early days with The Attractions, his years with The Confederates, some from his solo career, plus several other unexpected genres through the course of the show. Rockers include the aforementioned “Monkey to Man,” “Blame It on Cain,” “Watching the Detectives,” “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes,” and others.
Some tunes were in the middle range, performed up-tempo, and most often on guitar, but with more of a pop feeling. The songs “Jimmie Standing in the Rain,” Brilliant Mistake,” and “(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” fall into this category.
There were a couple of songs from a forthcoming theatrical musical Mr. Costello is writing based on a Budd Schulberg short story and the scathing 1950’s film, “Face in the Crowd,” that starred Andy Griffith. Social commentary is a recurring element in many of Costello’s songs, but this segment was the only time he interjected any actual political commentary into his show. Describing the film and show’s storyline, and the lead character who turns his reality TV show into a platform for demagoguery, Costello’s remarks drew a clear parallel between the fictional character “Lonesome Rhodes” and the current (but unnamed) Presidential candidate who once gained fame via reality television. It was an oblique slam, but to the audience’s credit they caught it.
Later in the show Costello even added some standards from the 1920’s-30’s to the mix, with “Little White Lies” and “Side By Side.” The latter, usually a buoyant buddy tune, was amusingly done in a minor key this time, rendering it darker and melancholy – totally different than the original as written and performed by Cliff Edwards, a.k.a the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Disney’s “Pinocchio.”
It was a little surprising, given Costello’s punk and new wave origins, how much of the set list was comprised of poignant ballads, most performed at the grand piano. This was not a bad thing, but rather a good one, demonstrating the range and depth of his artistry across so many musical styles. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that a cabaret-style tour that includes performing arts centers would dig a little deeper into Costello’s songbook. Ballads in the set include “Nothing Clings Like Ivy,” “All This Useless Beauty,” “Everyday I Write the Book,” “Shipbuilding,” “American Mirror,” and the ultimate, third-encore finale of the George Jones’ hit, “Good Year for the Roses.”
It’s not fair to call the sister duo of Rebecca and Megan Lovell who perform as Larkin Poe an “opening act,” though they did kick the show off with a fine, five song set of blues-rock tunes featuring strong harmonies, and electric and slide guitar. (BTW, Larkin Poe was the name of the sisters' great-great-great-grandfather, who was a distant cousin of Edgar Allan Poe).
Costello brought the duo back onstage with him for eleven songs and two of his encore sets, performing together on almost half of his full set list; Costello even had Rebecca Lovell perform “Burn the Paper Down to Ash” as a solo.
Unfortunately, there were a number of instances throughout the concert where the sound was muddy, making it hard to understand all of the lyrics. It did not occur when Costello was at the piano or on songs done with the old-time, omnidirectional stand mic that he called “Josephine.” I am very familiar with the usual, excellent quality of the sound in Yardley Hall, so this anomaly was surprising.
ELVIS COSTELLO OCTOBER 7 DETOUR SETLIST
1. New Amsterdam
2. Poison Moon
3. Accidents Will Happen
4. They're Not Laughing at Me Now
5. All This Useless Beauty
6. Everyday I Write the Book
8. Deep Dark Truthful Mirror
9. No Man's Woman
10. Face in the Crowd
11. Little White Lies
12. American Without Tears
13. Watching the Detectives
14. Alison (off-mic and in the audience)
Encore Set with Larkin Poe
15. Blame It on Cain
16. Nothing Clings Like Ivy
17. Clown Strike
18. Burn the Paper Down to Ash
20. That's Not the Part of Him You're Leaving
21. American Mirror
Solo Encore Set
22. (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes
23. Jimmie Standing in the Rain
24. Side By Side
25. Blood & Hot Sauce
Encore Set with Larkin Poe
26. Brilliant Mistake
27. Down on the Bottom
28. (What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding
29. Good Year for the Roses