New York Press, March 1, 2004

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Elvis Costello

J.R. Taylor


...I'm happily reading about the Great Pumpkins while heading uptown to see the greatest living argument against heterosexual marriage — specifically, Elvis Costello, whose lousy new album North is a disastrously sappy celebration of his love for Diane Krall.

I'm expecting the Beacon Theater performance to be a showcase for an exceptionally abysmal album. Instead, it's far worse. The serious songwriter has contracted Montreux envy from Krall, and the concert is packaged as an Evening with the Great Elvis Costello Songbook. Our former hero sports a suit, stands in a spotlight and revamps old songs with pianist Steve Nieve even while complaining about fans who "suffer from a disease called nostalgia" — which prompts a shout for "Veronica!" That lame oldie doesn't even predate Costello's salad days.

Costello's been pulling this crap since the late 80s, mainly to disguise how nobody cares about his later work. Those shows used to include a nicely self-deprecating manner. Sadly, he now seems to buy into his shtick. The Brodsky Quartet liven things up when they emerge for a John Barryish take on "Pills and Soap," but that just makes me wish I was at a Loser's Lounge show. Besides, the strings are really present to showcase a set of North tunes, which provides a perfect mid-concert death knell — especially when Costello wraps up the Quartet's cameo with the excruciating "Fallen."

You'd think a guy with so much love for great songwriters would know better than to write a song about the autumn leaves. Except, of course, Costello loves great songwriters because he considers himself to be one of them — which he was, right up to around 1984. The real lesson to be learned tonight is that Joe Jackson is a goddamned genius.

There's no recovering from the North nod, even with the reliable "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" Costello keeps attempting to redeem the Warner Bros. years, but it'll take more than pretending that he used to work for Jack Warner. This is easily the worst concert I've seen since a righteous fan bounced a bottle off of David Bowie's head.

And Costello's a lot less likely to rebound, as shown by his spoken-word departure during "God's Comic." He bravely takes a stand on the Upper West Side to cast his witty wrath upon the CMA Awards, "hillbillies in Georgia," The Passion of the Christ and — of course — anyone who could possibly imagine opposing gay marriage. In his defense, though, we can't assume Costello is sincere about any of this. He doesn't even mention Ray Charles.


New York Press, March 1, 2004

J.R. Taylor reviews Elvis Costello with Steve Nieve and The Brodsky Quartet, Thursday, February 26, 2004, Beacon Theatre, New York.


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