Last night Andrew and I went to see Elvis Costello
. BEST CONCERT EVER!
I had high expectations and they were exceeded in every way. That doesn't ever happen!
When the tech brought out Elvis' guitars, I was wowed immediately because they actually looked used. The tech was extra careful wiring and setting up, which I wondered about. I've seen a lot of concerts, and most often the guitars are polished to a high finish and look fancy and clean (including one unfortunate black lacquered guitar belonging to Emmylou Harris at a previous concert, which caught the lights too well and blinded us all). There was an array of 5 or 6 different instruments, ranging in size and shape, each had so much character. I later found out that the first one brought out and given about five minutes of stage time by itself before the others were brought on had once belonged to Chuck Berry. And OH! did that famous guitar send chills up our spines! Elvis introduced us to his historic baby in the 5th song, playing the slowest and smokiest version of The Only Flame in Town
. The sound was deep and rich and mellow and went right through you like a ghost... It was the most thrilling point in the evening. Elvis played it exceptionally, letting that Berry sound resonate in our bones. There wasn't a corner of that theater that Berry's guitar didn't reach right down to through the joists. Beautiful.
Elvis is not the very best guitar player, nor the very best singer, but he is an incredible musician and knows stuff you can only learn from history and from old time musicians. Things you get from loving music and making it your lifetime work. He can make a guitar speak. I don't think he gets that across in recordings, just how fine he can be as a player. He can put enormous, complicated feeling into a song. One thing I love about him is that cracked voice - you think maybe he won't make the note he's reaching for, but you want him to, so the suspense is built up - and then it comes out so beautiful, so strong and rather pure. Very pleasing. There's something incredibly plaintive in that mix of ugliness and beauty.
When I'm thinking back on the songs he chose to play, I realize that there was a melancholy note throughout Of course! And yet, the last thing I felt was melancholy last night. He came on with so much energy, before anyone really expected him to. He played for 2 hours straight, solo, working in many little funny vintage ditties (not on the playlist) and the feeling was one of sly - dare I say it? contentment. He moved from song to song quickly, but took time within the songs themselves. On stage I was surprised at how normal he looked under the traditional Elvis garb. I don't know whether this is something that has come with age, or if his odd, big head/skinny body alien look is exaggerated by TV cameras. I could see him being the type of person who could run by on the street without your noticing. He looked....athletic
. Not what I expected. His slender wrists are what I admired most, his strumming is very fluid, and he has large fingers on slim hands, which give him the ability to go easily for those chord changes and reaches, while keeping very loose and hitting the notes precisely.
His music is nuanced, just like his playing...in fact it's all in the nuance with him. His skill in live performing lies in his use of time change, chord or key change, and dynamics within
songs. It's what happens between the notes or different passages of a song that makes him so affecting. The slowing up for added meaning takes on epic personal proportions. The stretching of a song from standard pop tune into something with a more complicated chord structure, and then shoved back into the standard time signature or pop format by the end is masterful. He can thrill you through and through with a sustained chord - on Chuck Berry's guitar, THE most beautiful sounding instrument I've heard (it's like the Stradivarius of electric guitars), it can be overwhelming. Just the tipping up of another instrument for vibrato can mean something. He takes his time, letting a word linger in the air or a sound... I found him the most complex, musically satisfying musician I've ever seen as well as the most emotionally satisfying. He is equal parts serious musician and bad vaudeville comic, and it makes for a very elegant, and at the same time, a raucous good time.
was a highlight, just a perfect Bill Frisell style rendition of this new song collaboration with The Roots
. So Like Candy
was a saturated sound pleasure, while the devastating, spare and bloody I Want You
was interspersed with guitar fuzzed and noise influenced evil jams - really cool, but it ended with a rather soppy close. That was the only small point in the evening where I was less than impressed...the rest of the audience loved it. I would have preferred a more cutting ending to match that deeply disturbing noise, which was perfect for the song. But it's a small gripe. Starting to Come to Me
off of the album All This Useless Beauty
was a simple Woody Guthrie style anthem that was as good as anything I've heard from more accomplished folk singers. His version of Walking My Baby Back Home
was as happy and foolish as I've ever heard Costello. Accompanied on a tiny guitar, it sounded fresh and vintage at the same time.
Oh, and he played my favorite song, The Other End of the Telescope
written with Aimee Mann. Fate? I like to think so, but more likely not.
************************************Jimmie Standing in the Rain
, a song about his grandfather who was an itinerant musician in the 30's
And I don't care if he hates I Write the Book
, or that it only took him 10 minutes to write it. What the heck does he know? it's a good song.