Elvis Costello, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

The Scotsman: David Pollock: 20th October 2014

“I’m gonna introduce you to my special guest for the evening,” announced Elvis Costello midway through the show, before leaving his centre-stage mic and planting himself in a chair off to the side with an acoustic guitar to hand. “It’s me.”

Forfeiting the full band “Wheel of Songs” format used of late, which has seen the singer reprise his back catalogue in random, audience-selected fashion, this solo show was about as intimate as it gets for a global star playing before a hall packed with 2,000-plus people.

Sauntering between piano and electric and acoustic guitar, he regaled us with warm tales of playing clubs with his orchestra singer turned hippie dad and of his grandfather’s career as a musician on the great cruise liners of the 1920s, until the Great Depression hit.

This sense permeated the show, that he’s a star who remembers the working class roots of his own music and the styles he adapts, through the jaunty music hall rag of Walkin’ My Baby Back Home, the tribute to variety’s glory days Ghost Train and the elegy for his grandfather Jimmie, Standing in the Rain, even as a crippling darkness lingered at the edges of Come the Meantimes, When I Was Cruel No.2 and Country Darkness.

Amidst the two-and-a-half hours played, his family roots, his punk days (Watching the Detectives, Shipbuilding, Oliver’s Army and more were all present) and his current status as a transatlantic conduit to the Great American Songbook were all explored, the latter through April 5th (written with “my friends Roseanne Cash and Kris Kristofferson”) and a sublime contribution from Dylan’s New Basement Tapes, Lost On the River.

It was this combination of versatility and humanity which made the show so memorable.