Rocking Magpie, June 10, 2015

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Rocking Magpie



Elvis Costello and Larkin Poe — Sage Gateshead

Alan Harrison

As I first saw them play 5 years ago in the upstairs room of the Central Bar; which is about 200 yards away from Sage Gateshead I was really thrilled, and a little nervous to see Larkin Poe support Elvis Costello tonight.

I should have known better because in the intervening years the Lovell Sisters have grown into their undoubted talent; and treat their thirty-minute slot as if they were headliners.

Much like the previous three times I've seen them; the sisters played songs solely from their recent (debut) album Kin; and appear to have airbrushed their first four EP's out of their history; which is a huge shame.

That said; the hauntingly Gothic opening song "Hey Sinner" certainly caught the attention of plenty of people in my eye line; especially when it slid into "Black Betty."

Not for the first time the story that leads into the song about their Grandfather Jesse is nearly as good as the song itself; and that's saying something; and their harmonies were as sweet as a Georgia peach.

Megan flawlessly made her funky slide guitar scream and squeal as the strings on Rebecca's Fender Jaguar had smoke coming from them during their re-interpretation as an Alt-Country Murder Ballad during Cher's "Bang-Bang" that closed the short set.

When you are a star of Mr. Costello's magnitude you are entitled to a stage-set that wouldn't look out of place in a Monty Python sketch and I stopped counting the amount of guitars he had, when I ran out of fingers; and to think I naively thought tonight's programme was "about the songs"; which it was of course.

EC virtually bounded onto the stage; looking very dapper in a three piece navy blue suit and white snap brim Fedora; that ended up at a particularly jaunty angle by the end of the evening. With a broad smile and a cheeky "Hiya," he strapped on a guitar and let rip with an angry and angst ridden "Sneaky Feelings," which closed with a roar of approval from the distinctly well-healed and middle-aged audience.

As the night progressed the giant TV set behind him broadcast a number of videos and images of local heroes; my favourite being long forgotten folk singer Alex Glasgow and his LP Alex Glasgow Sings Geordie Folk Songs. This led Elvis into hinting at tales of debauchery on visits to the city in his youth; then blasting through "Accidents Will Happen" on his acoustic guitar.

This where the concert took a dramatic left turn. Costello introduced the next song as originally being a Professor Longhair tune that he channeled through Allen Toussaint. What followed next was quite spellbinding. I own the album "Ascension Day" comes from; but don't think I've listened to it more than twice; which is obviously my loss, as this song and Costello's sparse guitar arrangement was much, much better than his recorded version.

None of the next few songs were given actual introductions, and the arrangements were so far removed from the originals I found myself playing "name that tune" but quite a few people around me became restless.

Obviously with a back catalogue of 30-plus studio albums he has nearly 1000 songs to choose from; but a few choices tonight were contrary to say the least but; and it's a big BUT… hearing him blasting out power chords on an acoustic guitar during "Mouth Almighty" will live with me forever and the last time I saw him perform "Oliver's Army" we were both four stone lighter and I was so drunk I was pogoed (apparently) at the legendary Mayfair in Newcastle. There wasn't any pogoing tonight – I'm far too sensible for such frivolities; but inside… inside I was pogoing!

Another highlight; and I'm not even sure that word does it justice was his simple rendition of "Shipbuilding"; on the grand piano. Owing a debt to Robert Wyatt's version; I had tears in my eyes as the final notes majestically echoed around the hall and as one we stood up to salute the most beautiful anti-war song ever written. Fact.

Dismissing the adulation with a wave of the hand he continued at the piano, regaling us with a jazzy "Side by Side" then deconstructing "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" into a slow smoky Blues.

As the 90-minute mark came and went, I punched the air; to the bemusement of the man sitting next to me as the opening notes to "Hoover Factory" filtered through the air. While not the cry to arms of my youth; there was still plenty of venom in the deliveryman's delivery.

After a near unrecognisable version of "Everyday I Write the Book" he left the stage; as a video of his father Ross singing a Calypso version of "If I Had a Hammer" filled the massive TV set while the crew re-set the stage.

As the final notes faded EC skipped back on stage accompanied by Larkin Poe; which was a pleasant surprise. The trio ripped right through "Pads, Paws and Claws" from the Great Lost Covers album before immediately slowing things down for a sumptuous version of "In a Love Field"; which had the Lovell Sisters delicious harmonies dripping all over it.

A couple of songs from the New Basement Tapes were very average to say the least; especially as a couple of latter day duets could have been perfect with either Rebecca or Megan taking the Emmylou or Lucinda roles. Just a thought.

Then; boom the trio rocked the joint for three power-packed minutes with "Blame it on Cain" then with a wave they ran off stage.

The lights were still off but plenty of people began filtering out of the hall. My neighbour tugged my sleeve, smiled and shook his head as I packed my notepad away.

As if by magic; the TV on the stage lit up and Elvis tore into "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" (a nod to local legends the Animals?) then KABOOM – "Pump it Up!" Who knew one man and a guitar could make such a glorious noise; before waving goodbye and disappearing behind a curtain. Cue more people filtering out.

Ta Da! He appeared again from stage left. By now he was making more comebacks than Sinatra!

Wandering to the front of the stage; he eschewed the microphones and you could have heard a pin drop as he serenaded us with a beautifully delicate version of "Alison."

Surely that was it? Nope.

A picture of a boy soldier with a bugle appeared on the TV; and apparently this was his Grandfather Pat McManus; which led to Elvis/Declan crooning "Jimmie Standing in the Rain" which drew the second standing ovation of the evening.

Time for home? Nope.

The man in the hat came back on stage with Larkin Poe again. Two hours had flown by; but he still had the energy for a tip of the hat to the album that got me interested in Country/Americana music – Almost Blue. The trio had an absolute blast with "Good Year for the Roses."

Even if he wasn't; I was flagging now, but what else could Elvis Costello end the night with but; the English Folk standard "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace Love and Understanding?"

Our hero was in his element belting out the lyrics while thrashing his guitar strings while Megan and Rebecca nearly stole the show with their mandolin and slide guitar fills.

What a night. More hits than misses in two hours and twenty-two minutes and there were probably another three hours of songs I'd like to have heard.

Sheer genius.

Tags: The SageGatesheadLarkin PoeThe Lovell SistersSneaky FeelingsProfessor LonghairAllen ToussaintAscension DayMouth AlmightyOliver's ArmyMayfair BallroomNewcastle upon TyneShipbuildingRobert WyattI Can't Stand Up For Falling DownHoover FactoryEveryday I Write The BookRoss MacManusPads, Paws And ClawsLove FieldThe Lovell SistersLost On The River: The New Basement TapesRebecca LovellMegan LovellEmmylou HarrisLucinda WilliamsBlame It On CainDon't Let Me Be MisunderstoodPump It UpFrank SinatraAlisonJimmie Standing In The RainAlmost BlueGood Year For The Roses(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?


The Rocking Magpie, June 10, 2015

Alan Harrison reviews Elvis Costello with Larkin Poe, Tuesday, June 9, 2015, The Sage, Gateshead, England.


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