What Culture: Lewis Howse: 11th June 2015.
The last time Elvis Costello played The Sage he brought his ‘Singing Songbook’, where he invites spectators on stage to choose tracks by spinning a giant wheel, along with him. He also had his band The Imposters with him but they have been given the summer off.
This time around, Costello presented a scaled-down solo set. Sat alone on stage (which featured a giant mock television that frequently projected images of local heroes Peter Beardsley and Paul Gascoigne) with his piano, a generous selection of guitars and a few loop machines, the 60-year-old eschewed the fist-pumping full band sound in favour of a more personal and intimate show.
The results were fantastic. In-between his playful lies and jokes, stories about his father and grandad (who were both travelling musicians) and numerous shots at the conservative government, Costello treated the Sage audience to a joyous ragbag of covers, obscurities and bonafide classics.
Pump it Up, Oliver’s Army and Peace, Love and Understanding (which served as a barnstorming final number) were all present. Shipbuilding, She (yes, the Notting Hill song) and Alison, which was sung without the aide of amplification and had the crowd spellbound from start to finish, were all typically on-point.
But part of the joy of seeing such a multifarious artist is that you are kept guessing as to what they’re going to pull out next. Tracks such as the opening Sneaky Feeling, Nat King Cole’s Walking my Baby Back Home, Down on the Bottom and Hoover Factory were all welcome additions and created a spontaneous ‘something for everyone’ feeling.
Costello, who played for a not inconsiderable two hours and fifteen minutes (without an intermission), was supported by burgeoning Americana/roots rock/country group Larkin Poe, who joined him on stage for a few tracks during one of several encores, contributing much to a superlative version of A Good Year for the Roses.
Still one of England’s best musicians, Costello appears to be only getting better with age. No longer the angry young man of the 1970s, he has settled into the role of a Leonard Cohen-esque elder statesman of rock and roll. Settled, sure, but his live performances, much like his voice, have lost none of their power.