Review of concert at Barcelona, Teatro Tivoli on 1999-05-04
Elvis Costello & Steve Nieve
Phil King []


Elvis Costello and Steve Nieve at Teatro Tivoli, Barcelona

4 May, 1999

Review by Phil King



I bought My Aim Is True on vinyl when it was first released, and have since owned the album on both tape and CD, along with many of his subsequent works, but until 16th April 1999 I had not seen Elvis live. The concert in Birmingham completely blew me away - I was stunned by the range and subtlety of his voice and by the phenomenal piano work of Nieve. I just had to find a way of catching up with them again on this tour.

A week before the Barcelona concert I managed to book a central 4th row ticket so I set about booking flights etc. After reading of the recent tour hiccups - the hand injury, and the poor ticket sales in Frankfurt causing cancellation (were they suffering from that "German sense of humour" ?) - I was more than a little doubtful that the concert would actually go ahead. This eased a little when I found that the venue had been changed from the Auditorium to the presumably smaller Teatro Tivoli.

On arriving in Barcelona I spotted posters advertising such has-beens as Whitesnake and Supertramp, but nothing about Elvis. Even the Teatro Tivoli had no visible sign that the King was in town. The box office confirmed the event was on – phew!

Ron Sexsmith hit the stage at 9pm, rattled off his competent, if uninspiring, one-man set to the merest handful of people, took a bow and nicked off. I asked the young lady next to me where everyone was, and she thought they'd arrive after dinner. As if by magic, 10pm arrived, so did the audience, so did Elvis and we had us a concert....

Grey suited and in good humour Elvis tore into Man Out Of Time to enthusiastic applause from the near full house. The old favourites and new Bacharach numbers were greeted with equal approval, and, like no other concert I've been to, the applause was delayed until the very last note had died away. I think Elvis appreciated this too and seemed to warm to the audience as the show went on.

The Catalan congregation loved the often humorous scene-setting introductions Elvis offered before many of his songs, and laughed out loud at his joke falsetto voice at the end of one song (forget which) and his wicked feline snarl at the end of Pads, Paws and Claws. He had us in the palms of his tiny hands and was enjoying it! He teased the Catalans for their initial reticence at joining in to the chorus of Radio Sweetheart asking "and you expect to frighten Real Madrid like that?" (Non-Europeans - that was a soccer reference!!).

It's difficult to pick out highlights from a concert where both guys were on such great form, but here are a few of the things that made this such a special performance:

  • Toledo .... in Spain, with the intro about the dreary town in Ohio
  • Elvis broke a string partway through Red Shoes but seamlessly continued, waving away his guy's offer of another guitar - what a pro!
  • I Still Have That Other Girl - such a wonderful song and performed with such power and expression. Elvis is improving on the recorded versions of songs from Painted From Memory. Most "stars" bottle out of the difficult notes when singing live, but Elvis is completely the opposite, going for everything and more.
  • Watching The Detectives - a really excellent performance from both here - loved the distorted guitar sound

The finale was Couldn't Call It Unexpected performed without troubling the Barcelona electricity supply, stood on the edge of the stage, with some of the audience sat cross-legged in the aisles. We were treated to proof, as if it were needed, of the range and power of Elvis' voice. As Elvis conducted us to sing the final few phrases it felt like he'd just invited us around to his place such was the intimacy of the setting. I liked it, I liked it mucho!

Wandering out of the theatre into the warm night air in search of a cold beer, I finally got it. This had been Elvis' type of crowd, no brash poster campaign broadcasting to mass appeal, just a select bunch of punters who knew what he was about, hugely appreciative of his and Nieve's talents, and it was a privilege to be amongst them.

May the Fourth be with you - it will be with me for a long, long time.