Review of concert from 1999-10-27: Nashville, TN, The Ryman Auditorium
The Tennessean, 1999-10-28
- Tom Roland


Elvis Costello packs passion, large repertoire into Ryman show
   (pub. date: October 28, 1999, The Tennessean)

By Tom Roland
staff, The Tennessean

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Elvis Costello

If the Ryman Auditorium called to report that Elvis Costello was still on stage when the newspapers hit lawns this morning, it would almost be believable.

Weaving a large amount of humor and self-deprecation into his banter, Costello threaded more than 30 songs across a set last night that stretched more than two hours and 20 minutes, with no intermissions. Relying only on his voice, a guitar and the talents of keyboard player Steve Nieve, he still managed to grace that set with an amazing amount of variety, some of it inherent in the songs, some by reinventing the original versions.

Stately piano lent a classicism to Man Out of Time. Costello became a lounge singer with Temptation; a Spanish flavor inhabited (I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea and Girls Talk; church-like keyboards dignified Indoor Fireworks, and a hard-strummed guitar gave Veronica an Everlys-like feel. He turned Everyday I Write the Book into an almost-folky excursion, and used shreds of guitar distortion and preset synthesized keyboard figures to create a New Wave air on Green Shirt.

Costello displayed an uncanny ability to milk each song for its maximum passion both in his phrasing and his microphone technique. He paused in the middle of phrases to take a breath, providing an accent - intended or otherwise - to certain words. The sometimes frequent breathing only added to the intensity and urgency of the performance.

By playing with his proximity to the mic, he increased the dynamic range he already effectively employed. At times, Costello would sing so close to the microphone that every consonant, every breath was exaggerated. The heightened ''p'' in ''drop'' and ''k'' in ''wake'' during I Want You only added to the obsessive anguish the song was meant to convey.

But at other times, Costello would back away from the mic, physical distance providing a sonic distance. The crowd quieted itself as if on cue, to hear every nuance of his mic-less moments.

That was particularly true in the evening's highlight, That Day is Done, in which he sang an entire verse and chorus at the side of the stage, unamplified, while competing with Nieve's grand piano parts. Dedicated to ailing Fairfield Four member James Hill, the song became a moving testament, earning an instant standing ovation.

Costello weaved others' material into the performance - a rendering of Burt Bacharach's I'll Never Fall in Love Again and snippets of Peggy Lee's Fever and Van Morrison's Jackie Wilson Said.

Still, more often, Costello simply displayed his own genius as a songwriter, an interpretive singer, and, ultimately, a performer.