Rockerzine, March 14, 2011

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  • 2011 March 14



Elvis Costello

Grand Theater, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Phillip Raskin

Did he play the hits? — When you're a guy like Elvis, with close to 30 albums in your repertoire, you have so many songs to choose from you'd really have to make an effort to play a lot of filler. Of the 27 selections, there were at least a dozen bona-fide vintage winners, from "Oliver's Army" to a truly fuzzed-out, multilayer "Watching the Detectives." "Alison," "Radio Sweetheart," "Green Shirt," "Veronica," "Everyday I Write the Book" (a song he "no longer hates playing" thanks to Canada's Ron Sexsmith), "Beyond Belief," "She," "Almost Blue," "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes," "I Hope You're Happy Now," "Pump It Up" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" all made an appearance, and there were even some Van Morrison and Beatles snippets tossed in for good measure. Good enough for an old 80's rocker like me.

Was the new record worth hearing? — It's not bad, but do make an effort to understand which type of Elvis fan you are before jumping in. If you wrote him off once he started sharing the mic with the likes of Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach and (gasp) Daryl Hall, then you'll be happy with only about a third of the show, though probably indifferent to the new disc (National Ransom), which is kinda roots-rocky with some other styles thrown into the mix. If you were cool until he went country/classical/jazz, then maybe two-thirds of the show, and you're good for most of the record. And if you do appreciate all the different directions he's taken, you probably won't care whatever he puts out as long as it has that nasal, plaintive wail, something about heartbreak or loss and a few clever puns.

He did give us four cuts from National Ransom, the title track (and show opener) being the most interesting as he howled and yowled over pre-recorded drum beats and noise instead of the straight-up treatment you'll find on disc, shocking most of the wine and cheese crowd awake, or at least confusing them. Several of the other Ransom songs are of the "look how far I've grown" variety, from blues to country ballad to 1920s Django-inspired jazz (and whatever you think of the song "A Slow Drag with Josephine," you have to admit that Elvis can really carve it up on fingerpicking guitar these days). Short answer: if you liked the last record (Secret, Profane & Sugarcane), you'll be just fine.

Was he still cute? — The advantage of looking older in your youth is that as you age, your physical differences are far less pronounced (Exhibit A: Bun E. Carlos, please come forward). Elvis is probably the closest thing to an American troubadour we have today, all that despite being many years too late and of course still quite British. Full suit and tie (never loosened), fedora, deadpan smirk and ever-present specs means he looks about 15 years older than This Year's Model. If you liked angular nerd then, why wouldn't you like seasoned angular nerd with a little less hair now?

Did he still rock? — Always a bit tough to pull off solo, and even tougher when the crowd (thanks in part to the austere theatre feel of the just-opened venue) doesn't even get it together enough to yell out easy lines like "oh, why's that?" to the "I know that she's disgusted" part of "Red Shoes," though they did at least quasi-manage to figure out the chorus to "Pump It Up." His voice sounded great, and his performance chops haven't dulled a bit, particularly the guitar work. For the older songs, Mr. Costello did try to help out the energy levels with more distorted guitar, exhortations, yelling and the like, but absent a full band it's tough to get the notoriously indifferent Singapore concert audience, which did at least include a few rowdies, to really get into full jump and stomp mode (as they managed to for the recent Iron Maiden show). But then again, when you're outnumbered 7 to 1 by your onstage guitars, and also sit in an easy chair for a few numbers, it's also how you're choosing to present yourself. If you need your Elvis noisier, louder and sweatier, maybe best to wait until he gets the band back on tour with him.

What did it cost? — Well, here's where we're special in Singapore, with limited concerts, lack of venues and few artists willing to make the long trip over. $150 for about ten rows back in a venue better suited for staging the Lion King (and I think due to in a few weeks, actually). Further back cheaper, but nothing less than about $70. The Grand Theatre is a very demure, polite, acoustically tuned place not very conducive to standing up or yelling but able to hold about 2,100 people. So it was definitely a profitable affair for the MacManus/Krall household.

Worth turning up for the opener? — Um, no opener, just the one guy with the sneer and the horn rims. But he's playing in a giant indoor hotel/mall/casino/restaurant the size of an airport with an ice rink, so plenty of other options to spend some cash if you choose. Not sure that's a plus.

Was it worth getting my butt off sofa to go see / paying for a sitter? — Ask yourself: "Have I ever seen Elvis Costello?" Also ask yourself: "Do I know any other performer who can be considered the rock 'n' roll Cole Porter of his generation?" Finally, ask yourself if you would be upset with more of a serenade than a straight up rock show. "No" to all three means you should go out and get a ticket tout suite. Whatever the case, I was happy to see he's still got some game, and if you ever were a fan, you will be too.

Tags: Marina Bay SandsGrand TheatreSingaporeOliver's ArmyWatching The DetectivesAlisonRadio SweetheartGreen ShirtVeronicaEveryday I Write The BookRon SexsmithBeyond BeliefSheAlmost Blue(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red ShoesI Hope You're Happy NowPump It Up(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?Paul McCartneyBurt BacharachDaryl HallNational RansomNational Ransom (song)A Slow Drag With JosephineSecret, Profane & SugarcaneBun E. CarlosThis Year's ModelCole Porter


Rockerzine, March 14, 2011

Phillip Raskin reviews Elvis Costello, solo, Monday, March 7, 2011, Grand Theatre, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, Republic of Singapore.


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