Only an artist at the creative level of Elvis Costello would attempt to record a career summary using completely original songs. But such is the concept behind his latest album Look Now. Meaning the Look songs explore every facet of his canon from New Wave to Cole Porter via Burt Bacharach.
Incidentally, Elvis hints in the Look promotional interviews that this may be one of his last albums as he has grown increasingly disenchanted with the way the recorded music sales and distribution process now works.
Moreover, Elvis confirmed in a full length interview with Freakonomics cofounder Steven Dubner that touring is the only way to make a musical living these days. Which gave me and my musical partner (AKA my wife) the duel opportunity to see Elvis Costello live and to enjoy his take on his latest batch of original materials.
The first thing that struck us both on entering DAR was the semi-sparse crowd. The second was the reserved nature of the audience. To be sure, this was an older crowd, but they clearly weren't yet dead. You could tell by the light applause.
Audience be damned, Elvis delivered every song with an emotional and/or energetic read depending on the tune. Nothing was phoned in and the effort was obvious.
Or maybe, it was the effortlessness that was obvious. The man can sing. There is absolutely no sign that his voice has diminished in any way. He was, therefore, complimented — not aided — by his two female backup singers.
And what did Elvis sing to a reserved audience? Almost the entire Look Now album and several lesser known songs from his first decade. It was all a perfect gift to his fans. He mixed lively takes of new tunes like "Why Won't Heaven Help Me" with deeper cuts like "Temptation" and "Brilliant Mistake," not to mention unreleased songs like "Blood & Hot Sauce."
It was then left to Elvis the entertainer to get a reserved audience engaged. There was the appropriate reaction to "Watching The Detectives" and a beautifully spare "Alison," but it was "Everyday I Write The Book" that floored me in so many ways.
His delivery was beyond engaged. He was singing and playing the shit out of that number with an obvious sense of warmth and fun and the band was right there with him. And still the audience sat.
It was a good thing I had invested in floor level aisle seats because it was time to close the distance and be personally engaged for the encores. I wanted to attempt to time travel to those late 1970's days, to the small clubs and theaters where Elvis Costello & the Attractions would wring out his audiences with high drama and energy.
My wife and I made for the stage and we were rewarded: "I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea," "Pump It Up," "American Gangster Time" and show closer "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding" turned back the clock. There was that kinetic energy that moved a generation thirty years ago. The world was going to be different and fresh then. That it all turned out to be a "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror" was not Elvis' fault.
Rather, he summed it all up as only he could. All forty years. Through majestic music and wondrous words, and it's good to share some time with someone like that, and you should too. Catch this tour and see this man and this band.
PS: I did the stalker fan thing and met him after the show. My wife, by the way, generously went along with my lack of impulse control, so I want to take full responsibility. Anyway, Elvis was friendly and generous and worth the wait. A real gent!