The Orange County Register: Peter Larsen: April 4th 2016. Photo By Armando Brown
It’s clear that the reflective mood that led Elvis Costello to pen his memoir, “Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink,” last year lingers in the solo tour that brought him on stage Sunday in Los Angeles for the second of two intimate, career-spanning shows at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel.
Vintage black-and-white photographs pulled from several generations of MacManus family albums screened on the giant television set prop behind Costello as he performed. Between songs the always garrulous Costello shared stories about his parents and grandparents – both dad and granddad made their livings as musicians – tales from his life as a professional musician, as well as the back stories to many of the songs in his set.
And what a set it was: 29 songs spread across two-and-a-half hours from Costello’s best-known numbers such as “Alison” and “Pump It Up” from his early days with the Attractions, latter-day gems such as “Ghost Train” and “Jimmie Standing In The Rain,” and a handful of impeccably picked covers which on Sunday included tunes by Los Lobos and the late Dan Hicks.
It was the kind of special night that the 61-year-old Costello can seemingly deliver with ease so comfortable is he on stage with just an array of guitars, a grand piano and a microphone. But if you think about how prolific he’s been – and truly, he’s one of the greatest songwriters of his generation – and the fact that he swaps out nearly half of his set from night to night it’s apparent just how rare an artist he is.
Costello opened his night with a trio of songs that aimed straight at the hearts of longtime fans who packed the restored 1927 movie palace: “Lipstick Vogue” done in a deconstructed, rough-edged arrangement, “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes,” performed more simply and acoustic, and “Accidents Will Happen,” the first of many introduced with an origin story. In this case it involved a beautiful taxi cab driver, a plan to drive with her into Mexico, and a love affair that ended before it began because he hoped to find Jimmy Reed on the radio while she longed for Led Zeppelin.
More stories and songs flowed from there. An anecdote about working with the legendary New Orleans musician Allen Toussaint led to “Ascension Day,” a song from their 2006 collaboration “The River In Reverse.” A photo of femme fatale actress Gloria Grahame brought the confession that he’d seen so much film noir before arriving in America that he “believed all the girls in nightclubs would have a derringer in her garter, or at least know how to give you a good slap.” The song that followed, “Church Underground,” was inspired by that type of character.
Midway through the set he moved to the piano, joking that he’d borrowed it from his wife – jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall – and promised to return it unscathed, performing lovely versions there of Los Lobos’ “A Matter of Time,” and later returning to the keyboard for a beautiful take on Dan Hicks’ “I Scare Myself.”
Given his family tree – his father was a band singer, his grandfather played in silent movie orchestras – a bit of music hall or vaudeville comedy comes naturally to Costello. Introducing the standard “Walkin’ My Baby Back” as a song he wanted to play for his wife and their twin 9-year-old sons, he noted they were home doing what they always did before returning to school: “Playing a few hands of cards and enjoying some brandy.” Earlier, he explained the name of the tour – Detour – as coming from his family origins: “They say, ‘Where you going?’ I say, ‘I’m going on d’tour.’”
Highlights from the second half of the main set included a fantastic take on “Shabby Doll” and the reverb-drenched-and-looped version of “Watching The Detectives” he’s done in solo shows for awhile now, and finally, a bravura moment at the front of the stage on “Alison,” no amplification on his guitar, no microphone for his voice, a quiet-as-a-pin-drop moment of beauty.
Of course that was little more than half the set as four encores followed with most of them featuring the terrifically talented sisters Megan and Rebecca Lovell of opening act Larkin Poe, who added mandolin, lapsteel guitar and harmony vocals on songs such as “Nothing Clings Like Ivy” and “Blame It On Cain.”
Another trio of much-loved songs popped up here, too: “Pump It Up” and “Everyday I Write The Book,” both with Costello performing inside the giant TV now, and “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” to open a final encore and finally bring to a close a night that few besides Costello could create.