Review of concert at Dublin, National Concert Hall on 1999-04-21
- Kevin Courtney
Elvis Costello & Steve Nieve
National Concert Hall
By Kevin Courtney
'Why can't a man stand alone?" asks Declan McManus in the opening bars of his almost-solo Irish appearance. It's a rhetorical question: Costello's music can certainly stand up for itself, aided only by Elvis's acoustic guitar and Steve Nieve's strident piano playing. The pair performed this stripped-down set for more than two hours, gleefully reinterpreting Costello's back catalogue, and cheerfully exploring the darker side of the Elvis sheen.
Shorn of its punky guitars and clipped beats, Accidents Will Happen turns out by happy accident to be an accomplished composition. It's apparent that Costello has progressed in the 20 years since Armed Forces; his Grammywinning collaboration with Burt Bacharach sees Costello gliding gracefully into middle-age, holding his notes while others his age would simply hold in their beer bellies. Toledo, Tears At The Birthday Party and This House Is Empty Now are little librettos which seem perfectly suited to the Concert Hall's classical setting; Costello delivers the readings with all the pomp of a punk tenor, commanding centre stage with just a few hand gestures and displaying a masterful control over his vocal technique.
Sometimes, however, Elvis can't resist showing off his new-found range, adding unnecessary flourishes and holding his notes too long when he really should have just tossed them aside. When he goes back to the simple joys of God's Comic, the na´ve passion of Alison or the noble melancholy of Shipbuilding, then Costello is truly entertaining.