Wearing a purple top hat and swinging a silver knobbed cane, Costello sang the 1927 ditty 'Side By Side'
Elvis Costello's largely solo "Detour" show at the Saenger Theatre Saturday night (Oct. 15) was an unadulterated dose of the British singer/songwriter's bittersweet tonic. Here are 10 of the most memorable moments from a concert that fans will look back on fondly.
Accidents Will Happen
An impish raconteur, Costello introduced his 1979 anthem about "hit and run" love by recalling his early days on the aspiring rock star circuit. He stayed at Howard Johnson motels that featured "hot and cold running chowder" and planned to run away to Mexico with a female taxi driver, until it became clear that control of the radio would doom their relationship. She preferred Pink Floyd, while he favored the Buzzcocks.
New Lace Sleeves
"Nothing I sing tonight will be satirical," Costello cooed sarcastically before launching into his smoldering 1981 ballad about a romance built on dishonesty that, 35 years later, seemed to take on American political implications.
"Even presidents have newspaper lovers," he sang. "Ministers go crawling under covers. She's no angel and he's no saint. They're all covered up with whitewash and grease paint. And you say, 'the teacher never taught you anything about white lies.'"
Costello did not confine himself to bipartisan commentary. As the night went on, he made jokes at the expense of presidential candidate Donald Trump, disingenuously expressing hope that he had not offended audience members.
"I'm so sorry, it just slipped out," he said after one Trump-targeted joke.
About midway through the long show (which lasted from 7:30 to 11-ish, counting the opening act), Costello sized up the glorious antique interior of the Saenger and declared that the acoustics would permit him to sing without a microphone. As the audience did its best to cooperate with quietude, the 62-year-old rocker sang an achingly fragile version of his regret-filled 1977 love song.
Hats off to the audio crew. The sounds of Costello's many acoustic guitars and piano, as well as his vocals, were marvelously clear in the old, ornate movie house, allowing him to serve up his complicated lyrics with what he might have called high fidelity. Which was especially important since he performed several new compositions.
Blood and Hot Sauce
Costello is said to be completing a presumably Broadway-bound musical drama based on a 1950s short story and movie. Seated at the piano, he sang the compelling lyrics of the title song "A Face in the Crowd," which spelled out the phenomenon of a fictional populist leader swaying the opinions of an unfulfilled population (or so one might surmise). He played two or three other tunes from the upcoming musical, including a song about a scandal magazine, and a tune titled "Blood and Hot Sauce," with dense lyrics that seemed more serious than the whimsical title suggests.
If I Had A Hammer
Several themes were in play on Saturday. Costello's "Detour" show was an intimate recitation of old hits, an introduction of a suite of new songs, and a set of anecdotes and images related to his recent autobiography "Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink." Old photos and videos appeared on a huge antique television prop at the back of the stage, accompanying the music. The best was a video of Costello's father, musician Ross McManus, doing a marimba version of the protest song "If I Had A Hammer." The marvelous thing was how much he looked and acted like E.C.
Down on the Bottom
"I never thought I'd say this," Costello said laughing, "but I want to play a song now, the words of which were written by a Nobel laureate." He then played a composition he'd written to accompany lyrics by Bob Dylan, who, days before, was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature.
Blame it on Cain
Though Costello was on his own for the first half of the show, at the mid-point he was joined by Larkin Poe, an Atlanta-based country rock duo that had been the opening act. Rebecca Lovell accompanied Costello on mandolin and vocals while her sister Megan Lovell played lap steel. The two young women had the chops to give songs like "Blame it on Cain" the requisite rockabilly punch.
Costello, who visits New Orleans frequently, reiterated his admiration and affection for the late Allen Toussaint, with whom he wrote a suite of post-Katrina-themed songs including the haunting "Ascension Day." Sometimes he was so insecure in Toussaint's presence that he found himself smiling and mumbling inanities like David Niven. The trick to successfully mastering a Toussaint composition, Costello self-effacingly said, is to first remove all the difficult chords.
Watching the Detectives
The only time Costello strapped on an electric guitar was to play a jagged version of the existential 1977 classic "Watching the Detectives." As Costello gleefully scrubbed the strings like a washboard and sang the menacing lyrics, the covers of pulp detective novels were projected on the big TV screen behind him. The best of the batch was a title that may have been a joke: "The Murderer Plays a Ukulele."
Costello himself played ukulele during a sprightly new song about the uplifting effects of pep pills.
Side by Side
Wearing a purple top hat and swinging a silver knobbed cane, Costello sang the 1927 ditty "Side By Side" (coincidentally written the year the Saenger Theatre was built). Normally performed as an optimistic jaunt, Costello sang it as an ironic dirge. As promised, the core members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined Costello for several songs near the end of the show, lending Crescent City-style brass and percussion to the mix.
Note: Because of unusual photograph ownership requirements stipulated by Costello's management, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune was unable to take photos at Saturday's show.