He's saving his live album, Elvis Costello said, "as an insurance policy — for when the plane goes down."
So here it is, yet another set of live Costello songs that don't count as the "official" live album because... well, just because Costello says so.
He's put out a full album's worth of live bonus tracks scattered throughout his career even before finally releasing the oft-bootlegged Live at the El Mocambo disc a few years back.
It may sound nothing like El Mocambo, yet Costello & Nieve is similar in that it's a snapshot of a moment. On the former it's of a driving punk band in 78; on the latter, a sophisticated songwriter on a very limited string of acoustic engagements. Each has its charms, rawness and killer performances, yet certainly neither captures Elvis Costello.
If nothing else, Costello & Nieve presents every song off All This Useless Beauty in better performances than were captured on that excellent record. Besides that, there are more than two dozen other performances, running from Grateful Dead covers, Costello classics and better yet, Costello rarities. Overlooked songs such as "Black Sails in the Sunset" and "The Long Honeymoon" are given long-overdue airings.
The only criticisms might be that he's picked songs that either he's done acoustically for years ("Red Shoes") or are so acoustic in their studio incarnations that the differences are negligible ("Just a Memory," "The Long Honeymoon"). In the past Costello has radically reworked even his hardest-edged material with just an acoustic guitar, including "Uncomplicated" and "Riot Act." "Temptation" is the revelation here, recast and reworked, accompanied by cocktail piano. "Just About Glad" turns from throwaway to essential with its superb, slowed down reading.
This new live set is a limited edition, because these five CDs aren't going to win any new fans. But in total they present a stunning body of work — and it's just a fraction of that body. Here's the best songwriter since Bob Dylan, in fine voice, doing some of his finest work, stripped to the bone. It doesn't get better than that.