Seth Saith, June 12, 2014

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Seth Saith

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Not gonna get too sentimental


Seth Arkin

Elvis Costello generously explores his career universe at Copernicus Center

*****

Oh, I just don't know where to begin.

How about by noting that I've enjoyed the music of Elvis Costello since I first came to know it, likely in the mid-'80s.

The first album of his I owned was The Best of Elvis Costello and the Attractions, but while living in Los Angeles in the early '90s, I binge bought every CD he had released to that point.

Including last night, I have now seen him live six times, and have continued to acquire most of the music he has made.

So it might seem like I'm a pretty big Elvis fan, but I can't say I have extensively explored his entire catalog all that regularly or recently.

My friend Paolo, who also attended the show at the beautiful Copernicus Center — formerly the Gateway Theater and now a focal point for Chicago's vast Polish community — has now seen Elvis Costello nearly 40 times.

Yet I'm sure there were also folks in attendance who had never before attended one of his concerts.

I explain this in order to empathize with the difficulty an artist like Elvis Costello has in putting together a show that will please his full spectrum of fans.

It's natural to have an affinity for the songs we know best, and tunes like "Watching the Detectives," "Man Out of Time," "Radio, Radio," "Alison," "Veronica," "Everyday I Write the Book" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" were certainly highlights, enhanced by Elvis performing them plaintively, onstage alone.

Yet I just as much relished hearing long-cherished songs considerably deeper among — or even beyond — his greatest hits: "Jack of All Parades," "Watch Your Step," "Little Palaces," "Suit of Lights," "King Horse," "Sneaky Feelings," "Shipbuilding" and "Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4," one of the most beautiful songs the man born Declan MacManus has ever written.

Still, there were a good handful of songs I — and even Paolo — didn't recognize. Thanks to the setlist in this post on UndergroundBee.com, I now know these to include a couple songs from 2010's National Ransom ("A Slow Drag With Josephine" and "Jimmie Standing in the Rain"), a Richard Thompson cover ("The End of the Rainbow"), "Ascension Day," from Costello's 2006 The River in Reverse collaboration with Allen Toussaint, "For The Stars," the title song from his 2001 collaboration with Anne Sofie van Otter and deep album cuts like "Ghost Train" (from Taking Liberties) and "Last Boat Leaving" (from Spike), which — along with "Shipbuilding" — dovetailed nicely with seeing Sting's new musical The Last Ship the night before.

(I was reminded that Sting and Elvis are pretty direct contemporaries from the poppier edge of Brit Punk, with their first singles — The Police's "Fall Out" and "Less Than Zero," which opened Costello's second encore on Wednesday — dropping just a couple months apart in 1977.)

Elvis also played — twice, once with an acoustic guitar, once with an electric — a brand new song called, "The Last Year of My Youth," which he recently debuted on Letterman upon pinch-hitting for Lana del Rey.

I can't say the lesser and unknown songs all tinkled my toes like those I knew and loved, but not only did I not find them a detraction, I actually admired Elvis more as an artist who complemented what a presumptive and divergent "we" wanted to hear with a selection of songs he wanted to present.

And I was happy to be reminded of tunes like "Either Side of the Same Town" (from 2004's The Delivery Man), which could well become a favorite with greater exposure.

Especially given that Elvis Costello was on stage for just shy of 2½ hours, I couldn't understand why certain imbeciles in the crowd felt compelled to gutterally shout song requests at him, as though he was working a piano bar. (At one point, he coolly responded to a screaming fan by saying, "Sorry, I'm speaking.")

And just as puzzling was a brief post-show conversation with a friend of a friend of Paolo's, who despite claiming to attend many concerts each month, found this one seemingly just so-so because he "didn't know a lot of the songs."

I certainly cop to curmudgeonly complaining about setlists that seem far too obscure and, as referenced above, such an opinion is formed differently based on one's level of fandom.

But not only have I seen Elvis enough — most recently at an outstanding full-band show Paolo and I caught in Milwaukee in September 2012 — that I didn't need to hear "Accidents Will Happen," "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" or "Pump It Up" yet again to find this show terrific, the way he introduced songs and switched up the instrumentation over 145 minutes made just about everything he played intriguing, even exciting.

Sans an opening act, Costello began the show with a string of songs on acoustic guitar including a wonderful intermingling of his "New Amsterdam" with The Beatles "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away."

And just upon me thinking that he wasn't being very verbose, he introduced "tonight's special guest: Me!" and, after sitting down with an acoustic, proceeded to regale to crowd with several anecdotes and multiple remembrances of his father and grandfather, both musicians.

He noted that his dad, who had been a radio dance band singer, had urged the young Declan to grow his hair, but Elvis recalled that he had "wanted to look like Roger Daltrey. But not the Roger Daltrey at Woodstock."

His acoustic rendition of "Man Out of Time," one of my favorite of his songs, was truly resplendent, followed by — on an electric employing wondrous feedback — "Watching the Detectives" and a main set closing "Everyday I Write the Book," which he said he wrote in 10 minutes and hated, but "it became a hit."

A superb "Shipbuilding" started the encores on electric piano, followed by "For More Tears," whose origins I still don't know.

After "Radio, Radio," an acoustic "Alison" was absolutely sublime even though Elvis nearly botched the first verse, and luckily no idiots ruined the pin-drop silence that accompanied it.

Although the two encores comprising 14 songs combined classics and obscurities every bit as much as the main set, I especially loved hearing "Suit of Lights" and "Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4."

The second encore juxtaposition of Costello's first single, "Less Than Zero" with a reprise of his latest song, "The Last Year of My Youth," confirmed that — in "such a beautiful theater" now named for legendary Polish astronomer Copernicus — Elvis is happy to explore the full space of his astonishing career, even if it means not pulling out all the hits at every tour stop. (This outing will supposedly vary substantially from city to city; Milwaukee got another of my foremost favorites, "Brilliant Mistake" on Tuesday. Still, I have no complaints with what I heard.)

The crowd was rather raucously appreciative all night, and Costello quite gracious. And after closing a generous performance with "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," we all went home happy.

Or at least I did.

Though Paolo also gave this — his 38th or 39th Elvis Costello concert — a @@@@@ rating.


While Elvis Costello's performance was as good as I could have hoped, the unique venue made it even more special. I still remember going to the Gateway Theater as a kid, and though I'd been in the auditorium a few years back in attending Taste of Polonia on the grounds — where I, perhaps ironically, saw Elvis Presley impersonator Rick Saucedo — it was certainly a treat to see a legendary artistic in such a cherished place, which still has "stars" on its ceiling.


Tags: Copernicus CenterChicagoThe Best Of Elvis Costello & The AttractionsWatching The DetectivesMan Out Of TimeRadio, RadioAlisonVeronicaEveryday I Write The Book(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?Jack Of All ParadesWatch Your StepLittle PalacesSuit Of LightsKing HorseSneaky FeelingsShipbuildingCouldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4Declan MacManusNational RansomA Slow Drag With JosephineJimmie Standing In The RainRichard ThompsonEnd Of The RainbowAscension DayThe River In ReverseAllen ToussaintFor The StarsAnne Sofie von OtterGhost TrainTaking LibertiesLast Boat LeavingSpikeShipbuildingStingThe PoliceLess Than ZeroThe Last Year Of My YouthLettermanEither Side Of The Same TownThe Delivery ManMilwaukeeSeptember 2012Accidents Will Happen(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red ShoesPump It UpNew AmsterdamThe BeatlesYou've Got To Hide Your Love AwayShipbuildingFor More TearsSuit Of LightsCouldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4Brilliant Mistake

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Seth Saith, June 12, 2014


Seth Arkin reviews Elvis Costello, solo, Wednesday, June 11, 2014, Copernicus Center, Chicago, Illinois.



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