Review of concert(s) from London, Royal Albert Hall
NME, 1987-02-07, p40
- Terry Staunton
ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE CONFEDERATES
LONDON ROYAL ALBERT HALL
JAMES BURTON never made it over here with the other Elvis, despite paying his dues (muso term, trainspotters) by running through 'CC Rider' four times a night in Las Vegas. Now he's here and boy is he having a good time. He doesn't have to be subservient to a white-suited man out of time from Tupelo, instead he's giving a Scouse scally a six-stringed kick up the backside.
'King Of America' and the whole Confederates dalliance is another sidestep similar to Elvis' flirtations with Nashville on 'Almost Blue', but this time Costello has got it right. Instead of using his own musicians and other people's songs, he's using other people's musicians and his own songs. James Burton is the silent authoritarian who keeps El in line, making sure he doesn't go off on the kind of tangents that threatened to turn 'Almost Blue' into a farce. There is discipline on 'King Of America' and also here at the Albert Hall with an extremely visual bunch of musicians: T-Bone Wolk (Tom Waits' stunt double), Benmont Tenth (an immaculately attired Heartbreaker) and Jerry Scheff (a grey-haired, bespectacled, check-shirted used chuck wagon salesman).
No comparisons should be drawn with Costello's other band so the Confederates attempt no Attractions material. That leaves us with the bulk of 'King Of America', some choice r & b and country, giving Elvis a chance to be George Jones for the night and wrap his tonsils around truly wonderful titles like 'The Only Daddy Who'll Walk The Line', 'Pourin' Water On A Drownin' Man' and 'Your Mind Is On Vacation (Your Mouth's Working Overtime)'.
The obvious standout among all this jollity is Buddy Holly's 'True Love Ways' (dedicated to Cait) with Costello stretching himself and crying into every corner of the Albert Hall with a pleading, aching voice we haven't heard since 'Clowntime Is Over'. James Burton approves and gives Elvis a congratulatory nod at the end of the number, making him beam like a swot who's just impressed his favourite teacher.
Tonight's interval is provided by Elvis solo, having a lot of fun but using the same jokes he told at the Royalty in November. Yes, he combines 'New Amsterdam' with 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away', which has now become a standard highlight of every Costello set, and he answers requests with stripped-down versions of 'Red Shoes' and 'Alison' (and just a touch of Hank Williams' 'You Win Again' for good measure).
One lone voice cries out for 'Peace In Our Time'. Elvis replies: "Don't think so". What a wag, eh? However he does offer a new song on an old theme. 'Any King's Shilling' presents Elvis' grandfather setting off to fight the Kaiser, joining "the spit and polish potato parade", leading straight into 'Shipbuilding' to bring the story up to date. So that we don't get too maudlin, Elvis gives us a song "from the motion picture that doesn't exist", entitled 'Put Your Big Toe In The Milk Of Human Kindness' complete with soft shoe shuffle.
This is Elvis laughing at himself - he even gives us latest scores from the FA Cup replays during the set. Gone is the British brat with a scowl on his face. In his place is Costello's happy-go-lucky Trans-atlantic cousin, an American without sneers.