Review of concert in Sydney on 1999-01-28
- Mark Eggins


Elvis Costello & Steve Nieve

Chris Wilson

Capitol Theatre


"I Just Don't Know How To Begin..." Well he did actually. Hit 'em with an old favourite, thus a jaunty Accidents Will Happen kicked off tonighf's proceedings and already Elvis, along with tonight's favourite axe (an acoustic) had the (rather upmarket and older) punters gobstruck in the salubrious surrounds (and fine acoustics) of the Capitol Theatre.

Over the course of the next two hours or so Elvis served up a generous portion of oldies (he's not obviously as keen to flog his latest a la Bob Dylan). His set was pared back, subtly re-arranged yet still the tunes had their emotional power left intact (except for an ill-advised stab at Watching The Detectives - anything remotely reggaeish needs bass and drums methinks). Yep, it was a bit of a greatest hits fest with the likes of Red Shoes, Chelsea, Oliver's Army (still amazingly the only tune any of the 'classic rock' radio stations will play) and towards the end (in one of four encores) he even brought on his beloved Fender Jaguar for an impassioned run through What's so Funny 'bout Peace, Love and Understanding.

The slower numbers were the real heart-wrenchers however, with some superlative readings of Baby Plays Around, Indoor Fireworks (with its incisive, biting wordplay well articulated in all its magnificence), Shiphuilding and Almost Blue transfixing the audience such that you couldn't hear a blue chip stock drop in overnight trading. Also featured of course were a few tracks from his latest Painted From Memory, the collaboration with that golden boy Burt Bacharach, and while the melodies herewith were a little more meandering shall we say, the vocal performances from Elvis were still mighty fine, as was the ivory tinkling from Steve Nieve.

As kind of book end fillers, a few covers were thrown in ranging from just a few bars of The Kink's Dead End Street and the Fab 4's You've Got To Hide Your Love Away to a raucous version of Van Morrison's Jackie Wilson Said complete with a crowd singalong.

Earlier in the evening Chris Wilson played a short set. He has some songs about cool things like Little Richard chucking all his jewellery into Sydney Harbour. He also has a big voice. The trouble is, he is always big and histrionic. You know, like John Farnham. I hope he was taking notes during the main act, he could have learned handsomely from Elvis' dynamic control.

The main impressions I was left from with from this gig was that you can indeed age well in rock and roll (Elvis, looked svelte and fit all in black), the prolific nature of the man - he left heaps of good tunes out) and the continual improvement in his voice, now an amazingly distinctive and evocative instrument (on a few occasions he stepped well back from the mike yet stiII projected staggeringly well).

Elvis, Declan, call him what you will, at the risk of sycophantic hyperbole, remains a wizard, not wizened, a true star.

Mark Eggins