Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 17, 2014

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Elvis Costello delivers a marathon show that
taps into his vast discography (review)


Chuck Yarborough

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Elvis Costello's reputation as a prolific singer-songwriter is pretty well documented. A 690-song personal catalog is incontrovertible evidence of that.

What we didn't know is that we were going to hear them ALL on one night.

OK, OK, that's a teensy bit of hyperbole. The 2003 inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – alongside his band, the Attractions – "only" did 30 songs Monday night at Playhouse Square's Palace Theatre.

It was decidedly NOT a night for the faint of heart ... or the weak of bladder. Costello filled two-and-a-half hours with songs and stories, some good, some great. Both song and story offered insights into the man whose musical roots date back to a grandfather who played cornet for the White Star Line back in England.

Fortunately for us, Grandad Pat's time with the White Star Line apparently was a bit AFTER the Titanic, else we wouldn't have his namesake, known to the family as Declan Patrick MacManus and to the rest of us as Elvis Costello.

This tour is a solo one – no band, no nothing. Just Costello and a collection of guitars (and, of course, a guitar tech). Costello has talked about the freedom it gives him to pick and choose from the 690 songs in his arsenal. No two shows have the same set list, and even the songs that are on most of the set lists – "Alison, "A Slow Drag With Josephine, "Veronica, "Ghost Train, "Watching the Detectives, "Jack of All Parades and "My Three Sons, to name a few -- are in different parts of the show.

A couple of nits: Costello is a writer first: The word and the phrase dominate his work; those are the things that make a Costello song special. Yeah, stuff rhymes, but his lyrics have an almost Shakespearean lilt to them, sometimes with double meanings, sometimes with but ONE meaning, which you don't get till AFTER it sinks in what's been said.

Thus it is that the overamped guitar had a tendency to step on the vocals. Not erasing them, or completely drowning them out, but adding enough "white noise – especially in the higher registers -- as to make them at times unintelligible.

"Lipstick Vogue boasts the line, "Sometimes I almost feel just like a human being. It's a horribly sad and cynical line, but unless you know the song, there were times that it was lost.

The other part of that equation, though, is Costello's own voice. He's never been one to claim being pitch-perfect, and that definitely was the case Monday night at the Palace. But it was close enough – most of the time – that it didn't really detract from the beauty of the songwriting.

What DID detract from it was oversinging. Yes, you can hit a note and sustain it (mostly) for an eight count. Problem is, you have to build to that to make it effective. Doing it time after time just makes it repetitive.

For me, aside from a few iconic songs and some I'd forgotten that should be considered iconic – "Radio Soul and "For More Tears come to mind – the best part of the show were the stories.

He began with mentioning that the first time he'd played Cleveland, he'd arrived by canoe ... 400 years ago. Started a song then, too, and finally finished it just before showtime. Then there were the Cleveland-centric references to places like Swingos, which at one time was THE hotel for artists, and the Agora ("You've got to love a place where your shoes stick to the carpet.) and watching Aretha Franklin perform barefoot at the Rock Hall's American Music Masters night honoring Sam Cooke.

Was it a perfect show? No. Honestly, I've known dairy farmers who don't milk cows the way Costello milked his three encores. But each time he feigned being "done, the crowd (though growing smaller with every encore) drew him back to the stage for "just one more – defined in this case as 11 more, total.

Which, given as many songs as he's written, is only scratching the surface.

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Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 17, 2014


Chuck Yarborough reviews Elvis Costello solo, Monday, June 16, 2014, Palace Theatre, Cleveland, OH.

Images

2014-07-16 Cleveland photo cy.jpg
Elvis Costello sometimes got a little pitchy, sometimes a little loud, sometimes a little sardonic -- and few people in the nearly sold-out Palace Theatre at Playhouse Square complained. (Chuck Yarborough, The Plain Dealer)

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