Edmonton Journal, July 25, 2003

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Welcome to the new Elvis Costello:
Music that's lower, slower

Elvis Costello & Steve Nieve, Sondre Lerche / Jubilee Auditorium

Sandra Sperounes

One of his albums may be King of America, but Elvis Costello is now making plans to marry the Canadian queen of jazz.

The 47-year-old Liverpudlian even hints at moving north, and based on Wednesday's stellar performance at the Jubilee, his citizenship should be expedited. The bespectacled chameleon was just as engaging and self-deprecating as during his recent guest-hosting stint on Late Night with David Letterman — making light of himself on "In The Darkest Place," "Alison" and "All This Useless Beauty."

And though he left much of his bumbling persona back at the Ed Sullivan Theatre, Costello still flashed his penchant for reinvention and a deadpan wit at the Jube, making tacit political statements about George W. Bush while criticizing country star Alan Jackson. "He sings a song where he doesn't know the difference between Iraq and Iran," said Costello. "He could run for president."

Hold on, hold on. If you weren't one of the 1,900 fans at the show, you don't really want to read about his wit or politics, do you? Until Costello started dating jazz chanteuse Diana Krall, many Edmontonians probably didn't even know who he was. Hint: He's not the son of comedian Lou Costello. He's actually the offspring of British bandleader Ross McManus and has dabbled in punk, classical and pop over his 27-year, 20-plus album career.

But all you really care about is this: Did Krall show up during his two-hour tour de force?

Negative. She was likely tooling about Edmonton's rain-soaked streets, splashing through puddles in her Chrysler Sebring. There was another blond in her place, though, opener Sondre Lerche. He played a charming set of gently strummed guitar tunes — until his alter ego "Eddie" crashed "Sleep On Needles."

But back to the main attraction. Costello, armed mainly with an acoustic guitar and a rich voice mixed with tenderness, regret and punkish brattiness, delivered a phenomenal set worthy of his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-member status. Accompanied by Steve Nieve on piano, organ and melodica, Costello reinvented his entire catalogue — from 1977's "Alison" to 2002's "45" — into sparse guitar numbers with flourishes of classical piano stylings. Highlights included "Watching The Detectives," a film-noirish romp with Nieve's cat-like piano tinklings; and God's Comic, which included a spoken-word interlude about the Almighty Being and her love of The Dixie Chicks and ended with Costello leading the crowd in a chorus of "I'm dead" and "I was scared."

Come to think of it, Krall's presence was felt in every one of Costello's songs, old and new, particularly those on North, due Sept. 23. Not only has he adopted her lower register and slower tempos, songs such as "You Left Me In The Dark" and "Fallen" seemed to touch upon the end of his marriage to Caitlin O'Riordan and subsequent engagement. I may be reading too much into his lyrics, but there's no denying the meaning behind the title track. "North" is a whimsical number about "the perfection of" Canada's treasures — moose, ice, snow, blond jazz singers.

"I'm heading north," he sang during his second encore, to the delighted cheers of the crowd.

Welcome to Canada, Elvis. We hope you have a long and fruitful stay.

© Copyright 2003 Edmonton Journal

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Edmonton Journal, July 25, 2003


Sandra Sperounes reviews Elvis Costello & Steve Nieve with opening act Sondre Lerche, Thursday, July 24, 2003, Calgary Folk Festival, Alberta, Canada.


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