Although they announced themselves jokingly as "The Coward Brothers," Elvis Costello and T Bone Burnett might more accurately be called the Odd Couple of rock 'n' roll. Their performance together at the Concert Hall on Monday night was one of the most incongruous combinations that audiences are likely to see.
Burnett, a gangly American singer-songwriter, opened the night with an hilarious parody of the classical pianist Keith Jarrett, then proceeded through an idiosyncratic repertoire of songs which included "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend," the droll "Art Movies" and "Fatally Beautiful" (dedicated to Madonna).
The Cole Porter song "Anything Goes" gave him an opportunity to parody his co-star, right down to the menacing vocals and chugging guitar. Then Burnett stepped off the stage to shake hands with the audience, jumped back up to the mic and said with the deepest insincerity: "If I've touched just one person tonight…" He exited stage left, leaving most people baffled but amused.
This left me completely unprepared for Elvis Costello. who walked on half an hour later dressed like a disheveled rabbi. After a cheery hello, he announced he would be playing some new material, and proceeded to honor this promise by performing 16 new songs in 90 minutes. Now, while these new songs certainly indicate that both his voice and his songwriting are in fine shape, they seem to be a terrible reflection on Elvis’s state of mental health: a litany of disasters from war to political hypocrisy to failed relationships. By the time he sang "Nothing To Grow Up For" (a cheerful little number wherein Elvis advises his infant son that Life Is Hell and it’s all downhill after you leave the cot) I was praying for T Bone Burnett to return.
Luckily, this is exactly what happened, and the pair played a rollicking set of American country numbers that was possibly the high-light of the evening. In terms of epic length, the concert rivalled Bruce Springsteen — I just hope Elvis recovers before he comes back.