Detour is a wholly satisfying two-hour concert film from Elvis Costello, shot at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in June 2015. It finds Costello dipping into his rich back catalog and pulling out 22 songs (plus four additional bonus tracks) that encompass both favorites and relative obscurities.
Still in fine voice at age 61, Costello alternates between acoustic and electric guitar and piano as he doles out his stunningly lyrical tunes — sometime caustic, sometimes playful, but always imaginative and often uniquely personal. "I thought I would just sing songs about love and fidelity, but it would be a very short evening," Costello cracks toward the beginning of the show, and he goes on to treat the appreciative audience to versions of classics such as "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" (reinvented here as a peppy, acoustic guitar-fueled singalong), "Watch Your Step" (even more sinister sounding with a stark arrangement), "Shipbuilding" (featuring Costello on piano delivering a powerful vocal performance) and "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down," which Costello majestically transforms into a dramatically invigorating piano ballad.
The bulk of the tunes on Detour take on a more personal slant in the solo format, as Costello freely lets his lyrics take center stage. His introductions to many of the songs are almost worth the price of admission by themselves — check the hilarious lead in to "Ghost Train," for example — as he breezily tosses in anecdotes about family, the early days of his career and seeing The Beatles perform when he was 8 years old, to name a few.
The pacing and editing of Detour is also quite good; the set is littered with many props (including a giant mock TV set showing a variety of images throughout), so director Joss Crowley is able to use them to good effect to help compose many of the camera shots. And Costello changes up the mood very nicely throughout, including shifting from the bare-sounding lament "When I Was Cruel No. 2" one minute to the full-on distorted, electric frenzy of "Watching the Detectives" the next.
Megan and Rebecca Lovell from the Atlanta, Ga., roots-rock act Larkin Poe show up about halfway through the proceedings, and their contributions on nine of the tunes help lift Detour to an even higher level of excellence. From a fantastic, spirited run-through of the Costello/Paul McCartney co-write "Pads, Paws and Claws" to the stirring, spiritual "Down on the Bottom" (cowritten with Bob Dylan; Costello certainly has excellent taste in collaborators), Megan's fab lap steel guitar shadings and Rebecca's lovely harmonies and mandolin mesh perfectly with Costello's urgent vocals. The lap steel on "Blame it On Cain" is another treat, and on a raucous "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," Costello looks to be having a ball performing with the Lovells, even though he's sung this song countless times. It's one of a number of high points of a film that succeeds on multiple levels.