In 1969, a fledgling musician named Declan MacManus played his first gig at a folk club near his home in Twickenham. One name change and 45 years later, Elvis Costello is back in London, with the angry voice of new wave on genial form. "I'd like to thank the vicar for tea and pop," he says, looking out on a crowd of cuddling couples, excited tweens and discarded picnics. "It seems like it's a family occasion."
Costello spent his formative years in the capital and tonight, with only an array of acoustic guitars on stage for company, looks very much at ease: "This is both home and far away from home," the Vancouver Island resident muses. Despite his prolific, defiantly eclectic back catalogue, Costello wisely sticks to a festival-friendly blend of era-defining hits. He tears through "Accidents Will Happen" and "Veronica," artfully layering his guitar to embolden the sparse sound, then wallows in his much-loved influences on two medleys. "New Amsterdam" melts perfectly into the Beatles' You've Got to Hide Your Love Away; "Jimmie Standing in the Rain," from his 2010 album National Ransom, drips dolefully into the depression-hued bleakness of "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"
The nostalgic mood continues with "Walkin' My Baby Back Home." Costello peppers classics, including "Watching the Detectives," "She" and "Shipbuilding," with memories of his musical family, before introducing his stepbrothers, Ronan and Ruairi MacManus. Their fraternal harmonies blend soulfully on the still provocative "Oliver's Army" and "My Brave Face," while Atlanta sister act Larkin Poe provide a country sweetness to "Love Field" and "A Good Year for the Roses." Although Costello seems more than happy to share the spotlight, it never strays from his distinctive vocals and songwriting prowess.
A sudden flurry of fireworks threatens to overshadow "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," but it's the brotherly love onstage and affection from the charmed audience that illuminates Kew Gardens.