New Orleans Times-Picayune, April 29, 2010

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New Orleans Times-Picayune

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Elvis Costello unplugs at the
New Orleans Jazz Fest


David Grunfeld

The normally urbane Elvis Costello presented himself in a far more down-home — though no less nattily attired — setting for his closing set Thursday at the New Orleans Jazz Fest's Gentilly Stage. The half-dozen members of his latest ensemble, the Sugarcanes, deployed acoustic instruments — mandolin, accordion, upright bass, fiddle, acoustic guitars. One musician wore overalls.

They served up a similarly backporch set, relative to Costello's mostly electric catalog. The show was in keeping with the tone of his 2009 release Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, which was recorded in Nashville and produced by T Bone Burnett. "I brought my electric guitar with me," Costello said after 30 minutes with an acoustic. "Don't get too excited. It's only got four strings on it."

Short attention spans may have wandered as the Sugarcanes cruised through a succession of mid-tempo fare, including "Down Among the Wines and Spirits" and "Complicated Shadows." The ensemble sparkled on covers of the Rolling Stones' "Happy" and the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil," investing the latter with robust harmonies and Stuart Duncan's swirling fiddle. That fiddle also graced an acoustic take on "Alison," an enduring classic from Costello's 1977 debut. His voice, in all its ragged glory, railed against the acoustic setting.

In the most obvious special guest appearance of the entire Jazz Fest, Allen Toussaint — among Costello's few sartorial equals — joined him on piano for a handful of songs from "The River in Reverse." That collaborative, post-Katrina Toussaint/Costello album essentially launched Toussaint's contemporary touring career. Acoustic slide guitar courtesy of Jerry Douglas, a member of Alison Krauss & Union Station, enhanced the songs' mystique on stage.

As a reward for the old-school Costello fans' patience, he capped off the set with his signature "(What's So Funny Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding." Per the order of the day, he and the band rendered it unplugged.

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The Times-Picayune, April 29, 2010


David Grunfeld reviews Elvis Costello and The Sugarcanes with Allen Toussaint, Thursday, April 29, 2010, Jazz Fest, New Orleans, LA.


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