Review of concert at 1999-05-24: Vancouver, BC, Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Georgia Strait, 1999-05-027
- John Lekich


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Accompanied by longtime keyboardist Steve Nieve, Elvis Costello concentrated mostly on songs from Painted From Memory, his recent collaboration with Burt Bacharach, at his May 24 concert. Kevin Statham photo.

Elvis Costello Gives Fans a Night to Remember

Throughout a stunning, stripped-down set, the former skinny punk proves he’s more than worthy of adulation.


Elvis Costello
At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Monday, May 24

By John Lekich

My family will tell you that I was raised to be a Cole Porter, fuzzy-slippers kind of guy. I used to hum "Buttons and Bows" in the shower, and when other kids my age were dying their hair the colour of lime Kool-Aid and listening to the Clash, I was heavily into Doris Day. So when it comes to Elvis

Costello, I’m a late bloomer. Five years ago – the last time Costello made a local appearance – I had only a vague notion of who he was: some skinny guy in Buddy Holly glasses who’d been banned from Saturday Night Live for singing a song the producers deemed controversial. Alas, that was the pre-Elvis me.

Now I can tell you that the song was "Radio, Radio" – which I often play at a kick-ass volume that would shock Doris Day. The turning point began about four years ago, when a new friend of mine made it a virtual condition of our relationship that I listen to Costello’s music. She never used Elvis’s last name and she always drew out his first name as if it tripped off an electric current that ran through her entire body.

"You don’t know El-vis!" she would exclaim, as if I’d admitted to being a middle-aged virgin or never having ridden the roller coaster. "How can anybody go through life without hearing El-vis?"

So began a relationship that was a little like the new-wave equivalent of Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. She made me tapes and bought me CDs. She called me late at night whenever Elvis was on Conan or David Letterman. She gave me pop quizzes on his more obscure lyrics – which< I soon discovered, were pretty much all his lyrics. I also discovered that Costello was a genius. I knew I was hooked when I began compulsively humming "Oliver’s Army" in the shower. "Don’t blame me," my friend said, gleefully. "Blame El-vis."

All of this is by way of admitting that I would have been more than pleased to experience a very good concert when Costello took the Queen Elizabeth Theatre stage opposite pianist Steve Nieve, his long-time musical colleague, on Monday. In fact, it turned out to be an event that I’ll remember fondly for the rest of my life.

The setup was simple. Costello played the guitar and sang while Nieve accompanied him on keyboards. The repertoire was weighted in favour of Costello’s latest CD, a gorgeous, fully orchestrated collaboration with Burt Bacharach entitled Painted From Memory. Thanks to the accomplished Nieve’s full, almost baroque style, the extra musicians weren’t missed in the least. In fact, stripped-down versions of such Memory selections as "What’s Her Name Today?", "In the Darkest Place", and the title track only served to enhance the songs’ innate elegance. This was largely due to Costello’s terrific voice, which has matured into one of the most tenderly evocative instruments in popular music.

Not that Costello forgot his roots. He’s not the skinny punk from the ‘70s anymore, but you wouldn’t know it from his musical attitude. Highlights from the early days included a beautifully caustic "I Hope You’re Happy Now", a smouldering "Indoor Fireworks", and a hauntingly raw "I Want You". In addition, there were memorable renditions of such hits as "Veronica" and "Every Day I Write the Book". Several times, Costello was so pleased with the way things were going that he actually encouraged audience participation.

Of course, you’re going to cover a lot of material when you deliver no less than four encores consisting of three songs each. (That’s right, four encores.) Everyone was having such a good time that Costello rewarded the elated crowd with a fifth encore of his own creation – an a cappella song that had the blissed-out audience happily singing along. No wonder the guy’s my hero. Am I gushing? Like my friend says, don’t blame me. Blame Elvis.