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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
ELVIS COSTELLO - Carling Apollo Hammersmith, London
Thursday, February 10th 2005 -
by Nick Morgan
Its funny how songs can haunt you. It’s Autumn (as far as I can recall) in 1976, and in a flat in Lancaster we’re watching the local TV news before heading out for an intense evening sampling some of the country’s best hand-made beers (many alas, no more). Tyro newsreader, and soon to be enfant terrible of the emerging Northern music scene, Tony Wilson, introduces an angry young man with a guitar, Buddy Holly spectacles and an ill-fitting suit who spits out the wonderful words to a song that is still called (at least in my mind) ‘My aim is true’ (yes – I know it’s really ‘Alison’ – but that’s part of the haunting thing). And then, not too much later, the same singer comes up with a lyric which has remained with me ever since, a helpful maxim in navigating ones way through the vagaries of west London social-life - “She looks like Natasha but her name is Elsie, I don’t want to go to Chelsea”.
More years on than I care to remember, I observe that the suit is still ill-fitting (though a bit more on the looser side these days), the specs, though smaller, are still worn at a quirky angle, and Elvis Costello, if not still angry, then has certainly transcended to one of the great grumpy old men of rock and roll. And he’s on stage with the Impostors (aka the Attractions, minus original bass player Bruce Thomas) with keyboard player Steve Nieve (whose fractured psycho-bubblegum style playing has always been, or so it seems to me, the perfect foil for Costello’s spiky guitar and stuttering lyrics), Theremin and all, in quite sublime form.
Last time I saw Elvis he was on stage with Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris (who sings on his new album), Nancy Griffiths and John Prine.
What was noticeable then was that whilst these four transatlantic troubadours had learned the benefits of economy in their songs (average length just under three minutes), Elvis had forgotten it, preferring instead to lurch into self-indulgent longueurs almost bordering on self-parody (on that night he almost murdered ‘Shipbuilding’, arguably one of his finest songs). But tonight, reflecting the style of the new album Delivery Man (and the more recent When I was Cruel) – he’s back to tightly structured power-pop songs, written with the venom and accomplishment that have always made him stand out from the crowd. And apart from a few (largely failed) attempts at guitar hero he’s as tight and focussed as the songs – and for the most part doesn’t have a great deal to say, apart from through his quite excellent and remarkably strong singing.
LVIS COSTELLO   If you haven’t heard the new album, recorded in Mississippi and produced by Dennis Herring, then I would commend it to you. Buy if you can the just released limited edition version which includes a ‘bonus’ CD, Delta-Verite, The Clarksdale Sessions, recorded on a mobile in the same abandoned Clarksdale railway station that the divine Cassandra Wilson used for Belly of the Sun. Which is, by the way, next door to the Delta Blues Museum, well worth a visit if you’re passing through, as is the diner round the corner which serves huge lunch plates of meat and collared greens, and where the friendly locals will share their incredulity with you that anyone has travelled there from London just because of “that music thing”.
The Delivery Man
Elvis Costello
There are fourteen tracks on the album, and we get them all, interlaced, as the evening progresses, with hits from the Costello back catalogue, mostly the classics of the late 70s and early 80s. ‘The delivery man’, ‘Country darkness’. ‘Bedlam’, ‘Needle time’ and ‘Clings like ivy’ are pure Costello, and perhaps surprisingly generously received by an audience who are clearly there more for nostalgia than new work. And the splenetic ‘Monkey to man’ is a reworked tribute to Dave Bartholomew’s ‘Monkey’ (as performed most recently by Dr John), itself recorded in full on the Verite disc. As for the oldies, well its almost “you name them, he played them”. ‘Alison’, ‘Don’t blame it on Cain’, ‘Pump it up’, ‘Radio radio’. ‘I don’t want to go to Chelsea’, ‘When I was cruel’, ‘For the roses’, ‘Shipbuilding’, ‘Watching the detectives’. In fact I counted more than 30 songs in 2 hours 15 minutes (actually I ran out of paper and gave up counting) and couldn’t help thinking that this was one of those occasions when less might have been better.
But really that’s churlish. Here’s a man on top of his game. At one and the same time he’s composing an opera about the life of Hans Christian Andersen, on the other he’s pumping out tunes that are as rocking and relevant as the ones he wrote nearly thirty years ago. Not bad for a bloke who’s just turned 50! - Nick Morgan (photos by Kate, X)

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