Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello


Accidentally spoiling things for myself before I can enjoy them naturally has become my bread and butter these days. A recent search for articles on the brilliant HBO series ‘Oz’ and revealing the deaths of certain characters was a real gut punch. Today it’s a Twitter mishap – On the way to see Elvis Costello at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, a brief search for stage times reveals the stage set-up for the evening, which spoils what would have been a nice surprise.

The Bridgewater Hall is magnificent in itself, and thankfully the set up for the evening is just as cool in person. Various props line the stage, with the centrepiece being a giant old-school Television. Whilst people find their seats, the retro TV broadcasts old Elvis Costello videos, which is a nice touch. Why stand about in the foyer like a mug, eh?

Bounding on stage to rapturous applause, the man of the hour is all smiles tonight. Picking up one of the many guitars behind him, Elvis kicks things off with the wonderful ‘(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes’ from his debut album ‘My Aim Is True’, released in 1977. Nostalgia is the theme of the evening in this stripped back show, with Elvis picking songs from his vast repertoire and treating us to the stories behind them, as well as an insight into his family life and growing up. This is where Elvis really shines, and his humorous, laid back style gives an intimate feel to the show, despite the size of the hall. One story sees Elvis in America, falling in and out of love with a girl in a cab, with music taste being the death knell. Another has his Dad performing at The Royal Variety Performance as part of the Joe Loss Orchestra, where four lads from Liverpool were also on the bill – whatever happened to The Beatles anyway? In these instances where Costello takes you back in time throughout his life and career, it’s almost as if you’re the only other person in the room and you’ve both been mates for years. He truly has the audience lapping everything up.

Creeping over to a piano at one point, Costello recalls a humorous tip he’d been given about machinery, something along the lines of one must “creep up on it” and it’s a stance he’s taken with the piano. His time playing at the piano is a real highlight, with tracks like ‘I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down’ and fan favourite ‘Shipbuilding’ being particularly emotive. Not to say it’s an arduous task listening to a legendary artist captivate a room with just his guitar and voice, but it’s nice to see Elvis temporarily break away from the guitar and move to the piano as it adds a different flavour to the evening. As well as his time at the piano, Elvis also moves across to a chair set up at the other side of the stage – not just to play, but also so he can “keep an eye” on the audience.

Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello

At various points tonight, Costello is joined on stage by support act Larkin Poe – Two sisters from Atlanta, Georgia who compliment the one man show with delicate harmonies one minute and arse-kicking slide guitar solo’s the next. Whilst I wasn’t too hot on them as a support act, they work really well when they’re teaming with Costello, even joining him on material from ‘Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes’ – A series of songs with lyrics originally written by Bob Dylan, brought to life by Costello and a host of others. Watching these girls on stage with Costello, I can’t fathom what they must be thinking. They’ve been selected as the only support for Elvis on tour and brought to the UK, and they get to play with him every night – Incredible for two girls in their 20’s.

Well over an hour or so into proceedings, having left stage numerous times citing it as “the last song of the evening”, it’s not too long before Elvis is back on stage, this time actually appearing in the giant TV prop. Here he plays ‘Alison’, the song that made me a fan in the first place, and the classic ‘Pump It Up’ – two huge Costello hits and what would have been a welcome ending to the show. It’s not though, and he’s soon joined by Larkin Poe again for a number of songs before bowing out and saying his goodbyes. Then he’s back out again for what seems like the fifth time. I hate the falseness of any artist leaving the stage as if it’s the last song of the night – fucking stupid if you ask me. But I have to remind myself that this is Elvis bloody Costello, and so he can pretty much do what he likes.

One of the remaining highlights of the evening comes in the absolutely wonderful Depression-era song ‘Jimmie Standing In The Rain’ which ends with a breath-taking rendition of a chorus from ‘Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?’ – Costello stepping away from the microphone and belting it out to an overjoyed audience – with the spotlight closing in on his face on the last note. A perfect ending. Except there’s still more! But hey, this is Elvis bloody Costello, and what’s so funny ‘bout Peace Love and Understanding?

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Andy Hughes

Hi, I'm Andy.I'm the man behind Birthday Cake for Breakfast, a site featuring music news, reviews and interviews.Big believer in Birthday Cake, Pizza, math rock and beer (preferably all in one sitting.) I spend my mornings daydreaming about gigs and my evenings going to gigs. Lunch times are spent walking about town listening to Tom Waits.'Id rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy'