Review of concert from 1999-02-13: with Steve Nieve; Perth, Concert Hall
West Australian, 1999-02-18
- Michael Dwyer


Elvis: It's getting better all the time

Perth Concert Hall February 13 Review: Michael Dwyer

You could have heard a tear drop as Elvis Costello sang his last number with neither his voice nor Steve Nieve's piano amplified, strolling across the front of the stage like a comedian delivering a soliloquy.

Couldn't Call it Unexpected (No. 4) was the title in question. And, frankly, few in the house expected anything less than the two hours of magic the greatest living Elvis had just delivered.

Those who knew him only by his radio hits - Alison, Watching the Detectives, Oliver's Army, Veronica, et al. - had been cheated of much of this fellow's talent. While many of those gems were polished up on Saturday night, the performance had little to do with the three-minute pop principle.

Costello's latest album with Burt Bacharach, Painted From Memory, yielded four or five of the concert's finest moments, but it also set the tone for the rest. Nieve's grand piano elevated the simplest tunes and the singers occasional guitar work was rarely more than a guide for his dramatic delivery.

Surprisingly for most, Costello is a great singer. His range and expression were extraordinary, whether reconstructing Veronica with a jazzy modal twist, or crooning the defeated peacemonger's lament, Shipbuilding, with moving restraint. His phrasing was almost conversational, ensuring his meaning as well as his inspired melodies reached our ears intact.

On top of all that, Elvis charmed the pants off us. Apologies for his postponement. Begging our indulgence while he sang another new one. Delighted to be here. And mid-song anecdotes about God, Pink Floyd's pig and the relative merits of Elvis (the other one) and Frank Sinatra.

Those about to rock may have been taken aback, but they were silenced by Detectives, Chelsea, Accidents Will Happen, and Girls Talk. A raptured atmosphere greeted about 30 songs straight - which only left the other 50 Costello and Nieve have in hand to wonder about on the way home.

Even up against Alison and Almost Blue, recently penned highlights such as This House is Empty Now and All This Useless Beauty indicate that Elvis Costello is only now getting around to his finest work. Sure critics have been saying that for 20 years. But few could have imagined his talents as a performer reaching the same heights.