Toronto Sun, August 29, 2009

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Costello's country awes Massey Hall crowd

Jane Stevenson

Elvis had gone country and it sure suits him.

That would be the "aging punk rocker" — as acclaimed British singer-songwriter Elvis Costello jokingly referred to himself — on Friday night at Massey Hall.

Costello, who experimented with country music before on his 1981 album of country music covers, Almost Blue, wisely brought six crackerjack Nashville acoustic musicians (the so-called Sugarcanes whose ranks include bluegrass legend Jerry Douglas of Alison Krauss and Union Station fame) with him in support of his latest album, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane.

The end result was downright awe inspiring.

Wielding mainly an acoustic guitar — although he did go electric on a few occasions — the 55-year-old Costello, who celebrated that benchmark birthday earlier this week, proved to be a consummate performer as he dramatically moved around the stage with flourish (not to mention in a bright purple hat) while sounding rich in voice — letting some major hoots and hollers rip — and telling a bunch of funny stories too.

We all knew Costello was charismatic, smart and witty but he's sexy too.

Certainly, Costello seemed to be enjoying himself as he played no fewer than 30 tunes — including a couple of new songs, one that he claimed to have written on Friday afternoon — over the course of a two-hour-and-20 minute show that included two encores.

While the twang of Secret, Profane & Sugarcane material was best exemplified on such standout new songs as the moody "My All Time Doll," "Down Among The Wines, Spirits," the rollicking "Hidden Shame," "Complicated Shadows," "The Crooked Line," and "Sulpher To Sugarcane," Costello also countrified many of his older tunes and paid homage to those who came before him including Elvis Presley ("Mystery Train"), Merle Haggard ("(The Bottle Let Me Down)"), Chuck Berry ("Don't You Lie To Me"), Buddy Holly ("Not Fade Away"), The Rolling Stones ("Happy"), and George Jones ("The Race Is On").

He also pulled a gem out of The Velvet Underground back catalogue with a staggeringly good version of "Femme Fatale," and successfully reinvented his own early hits like "Blame It On Cain," "Indoor Fireworks," "Mystery Dance," "Everyday I Write The Book," "Brilliant Mistake," "Red Shoes," "Alison," "(What's So Funny' Bout) Peace Love And Understanding," and more recent tunes like "The Delivery Man."

His generosity was also on display as Costello often let his talented musicians take long turns in the solo spotlight.

All in all, he wears his country reinvention well even if he did take a lighthearted jab at a certain Canadian diva — no, not his Nanaimo-born wife Diana Krall! — while explaining who 19th century Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind was via story about her performing in front of 7,000 people without a microphone as she arrived in New York City.

"Kind of like a Celine Dion concert," Costello cracked. "You can't back up far enough."


Toronto Sun, August 29, 2009

Jane Stevenson reviews Elvis Costello and The Sugarcanes, Friday, August 28, 2009, Massey Hall, Toronto, Canada.


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