Riverside: Elvis Costello makes Fox stop memorable

The Press Enterprise: Vanessa Franko: April 6th 2016: Photo By Terry Pierson.

Like Etta James singing on the steps on the Riverside County courthouse or Rage Against the Machine playing to people hanging from the rafters at The Barn, Elvis Costello’s show at the Fox Performing Arts Center Tuesday night instantly became part of Riverside’s musical history.

Since the Fox reopened six years ago after a $32 million renovation from the city, there have been few shows that have fulfilled the venue’s potential to woo big names -- Sheryl Crow’s opening weekend performances in 2010 and Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers’ PBS filming in 2013 were the most memorable before Costello came to town.

And while the Fox has snagged big dance tours, Costello is the highest profile musician Live Nation has booked since taking over operations in December 2013.

The Fox, beloved by musicians and fans alike for its acoustics and sight lines, was the right venue for Costello’s intimate stop on his “Detour” run. Most of the time he was on stage by himself -- except when joined by opening act Larkin Poe, but I’ll get to that in a minute -- performing on the guitar or at a piano in front of a giant TV set that showed pictures matching up with the stories Costello told.

Whether he was picking the intricate “When I Was Cruel No. 2” on an acoustic guitar or rocking out with the fuzz of “Pump It Up,” Costello proved that without a band, he could fill the room with sound.

He opened the show in silhouette, his hair sticking up in that Elvis Costello way, and as he performed “Watching the Detectives,” it didn’t sound like the song had aged in the 39 years since its original release.

However, as he continued through the early part of the set, some notes seemed just out of reach on “Accidents Will Happen” and “Everyday I Write the Book.” He made a comment about breathing in too much L.A. air, but that vocal vulnerability lent an even greater authenticity to the show that spanned his prolific career.

The focus of the evening was Costello as a storyteller, not through with his songs, but with the memories he shared with the audience. He spoke of the first hotel room he stayed in when he arrived in America (a Howard Johnson’s in Mill Valley with a color TV), how Costello’s father went from big band to being a hippie and what it was like to record with the late, great New Orleans songwriter Allen Toussaint.

Injected throughout the night was Costello’s razor-sharp wit. (His best quote: “Increasingly, performance has become bloodsport.”) And watching Costello banter on stage just reiterated that someone should revive his television show, “Spectacle.”

While the intimate moments with Costello were enjoyable, it was Costello’s collaborations with Larkin Poe that elicited goosebumps.

Sisters Rebecca Lovell and Megan Lovell opened the show with powerful bluesy roots rock via a mandolin, kick drum, guitar and a lap steel and perfect harmonies, before joining Costello for the second section of a set that clocked in at two hours and change.

Megan Lovell’s lap steel added a new dimension to some of Costello’s most beloved songs and Rebecca Lovell’s harmonies all but erased Costello’s earlier vocal troubles.

The three were reunited at the end of the third and final encore, a rousing rendition of “(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?” that was so good, Costello should recast all of his classic albums with the Attractions by re-recording them with Larkin Poe.