Went to see Elvis Costello Tuesday night at the Ryman Theatre in Nashville. It was a mostly acoustic performance, accompanied by longtime Attraction pianist Steve Nieve and the Brodsky Quartet on several tunes. Now, you may be wondering, did I like the show? And I'd have to say yes I did, for the most part. But first I'll have to explain about me and Elvis C.
Longtime readers of my little bloggie may recall that I've stated many times that I was very slow to embrace punk and new wave music in the late 70s-early 80s. It just wasn't how I wanted my rock musicians to look or sound at the time. I was a middle class country boy from Kentucky, and I just couldn't relate to anything the punks were all about. I had no desire to wear a spiky mohawk, torn sleeveless shirts festooned with safety pins, and big black work boots, and there was certainly no class structure (no overt one, anyway) for me to rebel against — plus, I was perfectly happy with the music I was hearing in 1976-77. I saw no need to throw out all the "dinosaurs" and goose this supposedly complacent and boring music scene.
So, as you can imagine, that extended to Elvis Costello, who just seemed all posing and spite for spite's sake when I first saw and heard him on that famous SNL performance. The sloppily gulping vocals and rinky-dink farfisa-organ driven music he made just didn't grab me, despite the best efforts of some pretty savvy people whose opinion I respected highly (hello, Bill Lloyd!) to convince me otherwise. I was vaguely aware, in the years to come, that he was attempting to broaden his horizons, incorporating country-western and reggae into his mix (never cared a lot for reggae, either), and I did hear an occasional song that didn't sound terrible, like "Everyday I Write The Book."
But I was still unmoved to buy, despite the praise of Robert Christgau, Creem and Rolling Stone. It wasn't until 1987, ten years after I first heard him, that I finally gave it up due to his latest album at the time, 1986's Blood & Chocolate. I don't know what moved me to pick it up — I vaguely recall there being a half off vinyl sale at a record store in the Mall (had to make room for those newfangled CD things), and I took advantage, picking up a big stack, B&C included. It certainly wasn't the cover, which was pretty darn ugly. Maybe I just thought it was time to listen hard to Elvis C, who knows. Anyway, I really liked that one, and soon began to pick up others, like King of America (love that cover).
A year later, I started working at the radio station the first time, and of course they had nearly all of Elvis' (both of them!) albums, so I kinda got caught up in a hurry. Spike and Mighty Like A Rose came out not long after that, and I got both of them, along with Brutal Youth, All This Useless Beauty, and his collaboration with Burt Bacharach Painted From Memory.
But along the line I began to get a little bored with Costello's music, and he kinda slipped into that "I like, but not enough to buy each new release when they come out" niche that many artists fall into with me, due to my lack of excessive leisure income. For the record, I think Costello is a genius lyricist, whose words always bear close scrutiny and usually always prove brilliant... but he doesn't always craft the most interesting melodies to go with them. I admire his voice as well — while it will never go down in the history of Great Voices in Pop Music, he still works it for all it's got, and can be very expressive and moving when you least expect it. If nothing else, he deserves lots of respect for writing "Pump It Up," one of the kickingest songs ever...
OK. The concert. Sometimes it was Elvis C Unplugged, doing serviceable versions of some of his more obscure tracks like "God's Comic" from Spike or "Brilliant Mistake" from King of America; "Comic" he turned, about midway through, into a longish but frequently amusing spoken word monologue about politics, TV, gay marriage, and whatever, I suppose, entered his head at the time; other times it was Mr. MacManus in full Tony Bennett mode, crooning to the mic while Nieve tinkled away on the ivories, and was sometimes joined by the Brodsky Quartet, who provided clever string arrangements for several of the songs, many of which were from his latest release, North, which, if you read the previous paragraph, you can probably guess that I don't own.
In fact, that was a small problem I had for the entire show; not being the hardcore Costello fan that many in the audience were, there were several songs that he performed that were received rapturously by the faithful but were completely foreign to me. Elvis was in great voice, fortunately, and his sense of humor popped out at odd times, enlivening the proceedings somewhat... so I came away (I'm ashamed to say), that like the old man that I am, I left midway through the second encore; after all, I had an hour's drive ahead of me, I wanted to get home before midnight, and I had to go to work in the morning.
He did one more that finished with what I read was a great version of "Pump It Up"; satisfied and entertained, and happy to get the chance to see a musician I admire if not revere at the top of his game playing a style of music that I don't get to hear very often.
And this was also the first time I had been to the Ryman Auditorium, where they used to hold the Grand Old Opry. I've been to a thousand and one concerts in Nashville, but had never had the opportunity to see one at the Ryman before. And now I have. And I have the mighty mighty Rhonda to thank for it, so again, Rah, thanks. Too bad you couldn't have gone to see it as you intended...
One other thing which was a concert first to me, anyway — my seat (actually a wooden bench — all the seats on the floor of the Ryman are wooden benches, like church pews!) was in a section underneath the balcony overhang. I went to get a beer and when I returned, I noticed a commotion in the bench section next to mine, with ushers toweling the seat and back frantically, apologizing all the while, and the erstwhile occupants of that bench standing, waiting patiently for him to stop apologizing, I assume, and get finished. I asked the fellow next to me, "what's the rumpus?" and he informed me that apparently someone in the balcony above had spilled a large drink of some sort, and it had leaked through to drip on the bench below! I had never seen the like... and my first reaction was "get a cup"!
There was also a fellow who looked like Elvis C.'s twin separated at birth who was walking around meeting and greeting people pre-show... and I had a start when Costello did finally come out, wearing the same color necktie as his doppelganger! Yikes! Was that The Man himself, walking around before the show? But then I realized that the faux Declan was wearing a blue shirt, and the real McCoy was wearing a dark gray or black shirt. So not quite a brush with fame there, but amusing just the same.
Another caveat: if you go see a show at the Ryman in the future, don't park in the parking lot immediately adjacent — it cost me 10 bucks! I began to back out and go further up the street, but there was traffic behind me, obviously eager to fork over their ten spots, so I paid the man and went on in. Lessons learned are like bridges burned, as that Dan Fogleberg feller once wrote.
And that's the story of my Elvis Costello concert experience. Thanks for reading. For another opinion slash concert review, go here.