What: Elvis Costello, Meltdown Festival
Where: Royal Festival Hall
When: Sunday 20th June 2010
Can anybody name a hit that Elvis has had in the past ten years? No I thought not. Elvis has now fallen into the category of artists who deserve to be in the Rock and Roll hall of fame for the canon of their work but who have failed to produce anything of popular note for many years.
That isn’t to say that Costello isn’t producing good music - on the contrary, he is almost as productive as when in his prime. What’s different is that the audience don’t appear willing to keep up with his musical directions.
This can’t be a new feeling for Costello, he’s always been the sort of artist who will push himself and challenge the listener to try and hang onto his coattails. I’m sure his record label during his prime hit years were crying out for more of the same but Costello would never rest on his laurels. He’s pushed through genre after genre, from Pub Rock “My aim is true”, Soul “Get Happy”, Country “Almost Blue”, Jazz, Classical, Vocal/quartet, Opera… the list goes on and will continue to do so. Costello’s collaborations are as diverse as his albums. He’s dined at the Cash household, sung opera with Anne Sofie von Otter, crooned with Tony Bennett and made an album with Burt Bacharach. Burt is to songwriters what Shakespeare is to plays and his hits written with the lyricist Hal David shaped a generation. There can’t be many things that Costello hasn’t accomplished in his life. He’s even had his own TV series interviewing the great and good of music as well as performing with most of them. Can life get any better? Costello’s diversity shouldn’t be something that is derided, Costello is a musical and lyrical genius.
Tonight’s show was part of the Meltdown Festival with this year’s creator being Richard Thompson. The support act for Costello was Richard’s daughter Kami. This act of nepotism would seem unfounded if it wasn’t for the fact that Kami is actually very good, although her songs paint a rather depressing picture of relationship angst and
Costello was performing solo tonight showcasing songs from his back catalogue together with some new ones.
Costello may not be as commercially successful as he once was but this was a sold out event and Costello held the audience in his hand throughout.
He opened with the wonderful “45″, an auto biographical song cleverly intertwining the spinning speed of a single with his own musical journey through life. Word play was always something that made listening to Elvis something you’d keep coming back to. As often as not because you couldn’t quite understand what Elvis was singing but knowing that gems were hiding within! Therefore the self parody in 45 as Costello sings:
“Bass and treble heal every hurt
There’s a rebel in a nylon shirt
But the words are a mystery, I’ve heard
‘Til you turn it down to 33 and 1/3″
45 probably summed up the gig, a popular song among those knowing Costello’s work but certainly not a hit. Other than “Watching the detectives” and “Everyday I write the book” Costello only did one other hit song tonight and that wasn’t even his song but George Jones’ “Good year for the roses”. Everyday was also not sung as most would expect it, Costello introduced it as a song he didn’t like or more accurately fallen out with but one where fellow musician Ron Sexsmith has taught him how to sing it correctly.
The set was very bare tonight and it suited the striped down nature of the solo performance. It felt like Costello was baring his soul and at times I felt that Costello surrounding himself with guitars was a subconscious security blanket to counter this effect.
Playing in the wonderful surroundings and acoustics of the Royal Festival Hall, Costello made the most of it by often stepping away from the microphone and projecting his singing intimately to all present.
Costello was accompanied during his first encore by Richard Thompson as they both performed Thompson’s wonderfully pessimistic “End of the rainbow”, a song Costello had previously covered.
He once again showed his trait for diverse music (and popular self destruction) when he ended on the 30s/40s song “All or nothing at all” a song previously sung by artists such Jimmy Dorsey, John Coltrane and Costello’s own wife Diana Krall. This was a big disappointment for me, I’m a firm believer that the encores should leave you on an up and your final memory of the evening should have you singing the last song all the way home on the tube.
That is unless you’ve over-run the venue curfew and are trying to clear the place! Is that it, Elvis wants you all to leave him alone to explore his own musical path once again shunning popularity?