Afterword, May 10, 2016

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I almost don't know where to begin...

A night out with Elvis Costello


Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry

First night of E.C.'s new European (de)tour, solo raconteur with songs.

Supported again by the comely sisters of Larkin Poe, they opened proceedings with their cheerful country blues holler, two young women on electric guitars, what's not to love?

A sort of sameyness, I guess, as what is fabulous for a couple of songs can become a bit dull after a bit, albeit less so live than on record.

A short gap and on bounds the entertainer, in the first of four pairs of specs, suspiciously like the ones from the cover of Trust.

The sound engineer seemed to have kept the sound on swampy from the girls earlier, and it was hard at first to know whether the guitar was tuned in the wrong key or whether Elvis was singing flat, but a couple of songs in it was clear it was both.

For an hour it was insufferable, all clanging strings and flatness, as he struggled thru' songs that curdled my memory. "Oliver's Army" was particularly awful and I, for one, wished I was anywhere but there right then.

A move to piano helped, as the frailty of voice worked better with the sentiment of "Shipbuilding," the mood then swiftly destroyed as he moved back to guitar.

Astonishingly, the biggest cheer of the night thus far then came as he started his version of Aznavour's "She." There then came the traditional apparent close of play, with the chopped reggae of "Detectives" being instantly recognisable, being actually both a high point and the change of pace, not before time.

The token pause then allowed him to return, this time with the Poes in cahoots, rattling much more successfully through a number of songs, all improved by the added backing, his voice now relaxed into finding a few more notes.

Even some new songs, part of a joint work which smacks as if it may be another Stephen King/ T Bone Burnett collaboration. (So unpromising.) Despite that I was beginning to find my mood lifting.

Another "end" and a move into the giant TV set used earlier as a backdrop to photo collage. Now on electric it was a fabulous "Alison" and a rousing "Pump It Up."

On my feet now and back yet again he came, the girls back too, "Roses" and "What's So Funny" surely the end, both showing all in the best voice of the evening. Another end, back for now only the final time for a song dedicated to his grandfather, sending the now delighted crowd, myself included, home happy.

The audience:
Middle-aged men in T-shirts, readers of music papers and, quite possibly, Afterword. Steve T and Dog Faced Boy were certainly present, maybe others, the occasional spouse here and there to mean the support act weren't the only representatives of their sex. But why the cheers for that bloody song from Notting Hill?

It made me think..
Close shave, Costello. It was nearly bad enough to have me leave, before doing an about turn and leaving me smiling. And the setlist seemed a bit safe: all the "hits" with little culled from his edgier work. I think I just expected better, throwing back to him the question he described Allen Toussaint as asking of performers: well, what did you, Elvis, think of that?

Tags: Warwick Arts CentreCoventryDetourLarkin PoeTrustOliver's ArmyShipbuildingCharles AznavourSheWatching The DetectivesT Bone BurnettAlisonPump It UpGood Year For The Roses(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?Notting HillAllen Toussaint


The Afterword, July 18, 2016

Retropath reviews Elvis Costello, solo and with Larkin Poe, Monday, May 9, 2016, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, England.


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