New Musical Express, May 1, 1999

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Elvis Costello

Royal Albert Hall, London

April Long

We are inside Elvis Costello's dream. God's there too, on a waterbed filled with tropical fish, sipping Irn-Bru and talking about the other Elvis; "Shame he didn't live longer," he says, "think of all those wonderful records he might have made." Here, Costello interrupts his own reverie with a laugh, then begins to sing Duran Duran's "Rio" in Presley's voice, then "Heart Of Glass," then "The Drugs Don't Work." It's a joke, Elvis impersonating Elvis. It's a story about the inspiration behind "God's Comic." And, in a weird sort of way, it's about how difficult it is to grow old disgracefully in the world of rock 'n' roll. Better die before you embarrass yourself.

Elvis Costello has deftly avoided such disgrace. He's made the transition from wiry, vitriolic punk into podgy middle-aged statesman without splintering his credibility. A musical polyglot, fluent in classical, country and jazz, Costello is still breathing new life into the razor-sharp pop songs he wrote when he was "young and impetuous", as tonight he re-casts them into arrangements for piano and guitar with Attractions keyboardist Steve Nieve.

So there's the sarcastically apologetic "Accidents Will Happen," the twitchily scathing "(I Don't Wanna Go To) Chelsea," the Thatcher bashing "Shipbuilding." Without the cushion of full musical accompaniment, Costello's queasily nasal voice becomes unfathomably expressive, and the lyrics glint like polished barbed wire. Nowhere is this skeletal approach more effective than in the dark, gut-twisting trilogy of ballads; "Almost Blue," "Indoor Fireworks" and "I Want You," the latter possibly the most corrosive meditation on deceit ever put to music.

In true living legend style, Costello returns for four encores and still the hits he hasn't played outweigh those that he has. That dream about God dismissing him for the other Elvis really shouldn't worry him too much. With a legacy like this, and no doubt a host of future projects up his sleeve, there's little chance Elvis Costello will be forgotten. Even after he's left the building for good.

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New Musical Express, May 1, 1999

April Long reviews Elvis Costello & Steve Nieve, Thursday, April 15, 1999, Royal Albert Hall, London, England.


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Photo by Martyn Goodacre.
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