So, there was the night in 2006 when a cold rain fell throughout a great show by Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, and I recall trying to review a show under an umbrella one night in the '90s, but I think last night's downpour in advance of Elvis Costello's concert may be the worst I've seen. Sitting, stranded, in a parking lot at a suburban big-box mall — waiting out the deluge — I was certainly convinced that this was the most rain I've ever seen fall during five decades in Ottawa.
Fortunately, the last burst of rain ended before Costello hit the stage at 8:30, but the onslaught was enough to keep his audience relatively small (one of the newspaper critics estimated it at 2,500).
Perhaps it was the ongoing rain during the afternoon (when soundchecks are usually done) that affected the sound mix during the first 15 minutes or so of the show. Even though Costello was performing with his long-time mates Steve Nieve, Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher, it sounded like they'd never played together before. The sound was pinched and thin, and Nieve's organ — so essential to Costello's sound (especially when he's opening with "Pump It Up," basically a vehicle for Nieve and Costello's voice) — was almost absent in the mix.
The sound issues were sorted out eventually, and Costello went on to weave together a show that ranged through his entire catalogue. I felt that the show hit its peak when he performed a medley anchored by Bob Dylan and Rick Danko's "This Wheel's On Fire." It was the kind of gesture that only the most confident songwriter can pull off convincingly, using another writer's song as a fulcrum for your own show, and it was so far away from the Costello we first met in 1977 that it illustrated how much he has evolved to become one of the great composers himself.
I've become convinced that Costello's shows will always have ragged edges — a given, really, as long as he is the sole guitarist onstage — but that's his charm, and a big part of what reminds us that he was once an angry, loutish, little nerd who blew all our hair back. There's always a little part of that guy in everything he does, no matter what musical genre he's working in.