Miami New Times: Lee Zimmerman: 19th March 2015
There’s an old expression that suggests a leopard will never change its spots. I’m not exactly sure how a leopard could change its spots, even if it were so inclined. But the point is, once something is established, it’s destined to stay that way forever.
If that’s the case, credit Elvis Costello for opting out of his typecasting as an irascible insurgent forever destined to be known as an oddball rocker whose Buddy Holly glasses and quirky posture played out so well in the post-punk environs of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. It worked well for quite a while — who can forget his appearance on “Saturday Night Live,” when he abruptly cut short one song in order to launch into a lacerating version of “Radio Radio” instead — but since then, he’s easily transformed himself into an old school balladeer, a classical composer, a country crooner, and most importantly, one of rock’s elder statesmen, the latter category most befitting a gentleman of 60.
Costello’s performance last night at the Broward Center’s Au-Rene Theater on the final night of his so-called Detour Tour, found him combining all of those personas, aside from the classical. Though once he wore an ever-present scowl, the Elvis that performed for South Florida was smiling, mugging, joking and offering knowing nods in ways that the old Elvis would never have conceded.
Of course, personality counts when you’re doing a solo show sans accompaniment (other than a few intervals during which opening act Larkin Poe returned to join him onstage), and Costello was quick to offer anecdotes about his early adolescence and his father’s own singing career, which was an obvious influence on his own. (A video of his dad performing with a full band back in the ‘60s showed that the son became practically his spitting image.) It was warm, intimate, funny, and informal — all the things one might wish for in an evening by a venerable veteran rocker, but which was rarely once imagined as part of a Costello concert.
With the majority of his repertoire reinterpreted for solo guitar, or in some cases, piano, even the better known songs in the generous two-and-a-half-hour set — which included no less than four encores! — took on entirely new personas. It wasn’t so much that the material was stripped down, but rather that it was wholly remade. Consequently, saucy early standards like “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes,” “Watch Your Step,” “Watching the Detectives” and “Pump It Up” were reconstructed, becoming more nuanced and less provocative.
Other offerings on the more melodic side — “Everyday I Write the Book,” “The Only Flame in Town” and “Brilliant Mistake” in particular — seemed well suited to the acoustic treatment, although even in those cases, there were some unexpected turns. An obligatory take on “Allison,” for example, segued surprisingly into a tenuous cover of Jim Hendrix’s “Wind Cries Mary.” Likewise, his tinkering with various old time tunes (“Side by Side,” “Hidee Ho,” “Walking My Baby Back Home”) betrayed Costello’s affinity for showbiz schtick, a trait that clearly came from his father.
Interestingly enough, the various videos of the younger Elvis, played prior to his taking the stage on what was meant to resemble a giant TV, helped reinforce the contrast between the brash, young, rocking Costello and the elder Elvis of today. “You’ve heard all the hits,” he joked as he took the stage. “You can all go home now.”
However, anyone who had heeded that advice would have missed a most memorable show, and would have been denied the opportunity to witness a man who’s now proved himself a most personable performer. Looking dapper in a dark blue suit, vest, black shirt and porkpie hat, he moved between various stage setups, from dead center where he was situated behind a single microphone to the piano to a high-back chair and a folksy front porch. When he returned for his final encore, the mock television turned into a grandstand and his rockier persona finally came to the fore. But a mini-set with Larkin Poe again demonstrated his versatility, as he easily segued from a stirring “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” to a convincing backwoods rendition of “Lost on the River.”
Larkin Poe, comprised of Atlanta-based sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell, might have seemed an odd pairing for a Costello show at one time. But indeed, they proved well worthy of their opening status, as well as the later interludes with their headliner. Performing on mandolin, guitar and dobro, they played a variety of folk-like numbers with a modern youthful sensibility. Sharing several songs from their impressive debut LP, the Lovell sisters offered both rock and reflection, pairing an edgy attitude with an obvious sibling connection. Their style is clearly special, and kudos to Mr. Costello for giving them the spotlight they deserve.
Personal Bias: Always loved Elvis, but he always seemed so intimidating. Not tonight, however.
The Crowd: Wholly appreciative, even as they shouted out requests. To which Costello replied at one point, “If you’re lucky.” Another example of Elvis as a funny man.
By the Way: Didn’t expect a solo Costello, but the format proved both fruitful and entertaining. The fact that it was the final night of the tour offered plenty of reason for him to let loose.
Elvis Costello’s Setlist:
-“(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”
-“I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down”
-“Walking My Baby Back Home”
-“Everyday I Write the Book”
-“Watching the Detectives”
-“Pads Paws and Claws”
-“Laughing at Life”
-“Down on the Bottom”
-“(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding”
-“Pump It Up”
-“TV Is the Thing”
-“Side by Side”
-“Blame it on Cain”