Elvis Costello is one lucky fella. Having made the decision to shove six new, and not released, songs down the throats of his Town Hall Audience, there to hear 1977 – 1982, he wasn't huckstering the iffy material he's been releasing for years and years. He wasn't selling us Wise Up Ghost or National Ranson. Nope, Costello has just completed the songs for a musical he has written for A Face In The Crowd. Based upon the 1957 Andy Griffith-featured movie about a country singer with political aspirations, and with a book by Sarah Ruhl, the songs I heard were the best he has written in a long, long time. "The Uneasy Hour" and "American Mirror" are masterpieces (if you want to learn more about the musical, this article is excellent) and while nothing else stands out, I've only heard them once. Ready to send him back to Canada, I was pleasantly surprised. Oddly, both of the worst moments were songs you were waiting for, an opening, rusty "New Amsterdam," and a rearranged, draggy, "Everyday I Write The Book."
Which is not to say that nearly three years after Elvis performed an epic, three hour concert at Carnegie Hall that acted like an adjunct to his autobiography, and the blueprint for at least the first half of his "Detour" (read the Tour) tour, was what we wanted it. It seemed a little structurally weak, a random mix and match of songs from all periods of his career, some of which we could've lived without. At times, introducing his oft told tale about nailing a taxi driver, before playing "Accidents Will Happen," he seemed to be incising moments from other gigs and inserting em. At others, he seemed to have forgotten he was meant to be performing solo and gave us Larkin Poe as his back up band for way too long. Elvis has learnt the correct use of the loop pedal, which threatened to undo his Carnegie Hall gig, only using it once, during "Watching The Detectives" and to pretty devastating effect.
When you watch a show, you wait for the artist song flow to reveal itself, and there wasn't one last night. That is something we not only expect, but we get from a pro like Costello, but if following "American Mirror" with the Jim James composed, Dylan lyric "Down On The Bottom" made sense, I don't know who to. Just before the Dylan song, an audience member shouted "Don't boycott Israel" and this was an interesting answer, though I agree with the audience member myself. The tribute to Allen Toussaint, a terrific "Ascension Day" and a lovely "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror," performed on his wife, Diana Krall's, piano, were suitably beautiful and reverent. Opening band were the talented Larkin Poe, a two woman Haim, who could use stronger material, and they didn't get in the way during their time with Costello in his set. I don't think he needed em, though Rachel actually sang one of the new songs.
I wasn't thrilled though I wasn't hating on Costello's performance either. I've seen him many times, and this reminded me of the North tour, I caught it at the same venue. A majority of one, I enjoyed North, and at least I'd heard it before, unlike A Face In The Crowd, they both reworked his catalog into a place for the songs on his mind. I am not sure where A Face In The Crowd stands, I hear they are going after Hugh Jackman for Broadway, if they get him it will be a big hit. If they don't… well, they better get someone to open it because if those songs are anything to get by, it deserves to hit big.
Anything else? Costello has rid us of his hat and put on weight and looks MUCH better for it.