Elvis Costello: The New Theatre, Oxford

Reg Little: The Oxford Times: 28.06.10 his plan to play a solo show or it was going to be quite a night. Two hours later we had our answer as Elvis left the building, acoustic guitar held aloft, his suit still unbuttoned. A set that had begun with a no-nonsense Red Shoes, from his debut album, ended with one of the handful of impressive new songs delivered during an evening that reminded us of his mastery as a song writer. Anyone who caught him back in the 1970s snarling lyrics about all those girls who left “with another guy”, could not have guessed how the seriously good pub rocker on the Stiff tour, with the geeky look and one of the best bands around, would become a musician ready to steep himself into everything from country to classical music. Introducing one song he paid a touching tribute to his father, a former big band singer, with whom he first performed — and it’s clear he is still learning the family trade, as a vocalist and seriously underrated guitarist. At one stage he took unplugged to a new level, by stepping away from the microphone to belt out “a 1920s rock’n’roll” song in its entirety. Strong melodies mean his songs lend themselves well to the stripped down treatment, while the lyrics of Ship Building, written after the Falklands War, and Oliver’s Army have never sounded more poignant, as we all reflected on what the boys of the Mersey, Thames and the Tyne are now being asked to do in our name. The evening was first ignited by a powerful vocal performance of Good Year for the Roses, while God’s Comic showed that for all his relaxed style and readiness to share anecdotes about working with Bob Dylan and performing for Paul McCartney in the White House, he can still spit out with relish lines about “wading through all this unbelievable junk”. Then taking a stool, he offers us the sweetest version of the Sinatra favourite All or Nothing at All, perfectly summing up his approach to performing. Maybe that’s what he really learnt from his dad.