Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Elvis Has Not Yet Left the Building

Elvis last night.
A tardy birthday treat.
First show (of 3) at the Palladium.
My other birthday treat from Di (back in November) was to see Charles Aznavour at the Albert Hall. Not a bad brace of venues offered up and not a bad brace of chanteurs; both a little long in the tooth, both never quite reaching previous dizzy heights but both still intoxicated by the air that they breathe.
Here was EC, solo with an array of guitars, a grand piano and occasionally with the mighty support of Larkin and Po.
First thought: his voice is shot.
2nd thought: his voice has always been shot.
3rd thought: nowt but admiration at the way he throws himself into his songs; many of them so taut and twisted that he has to drag the melodies over barricades that he's not quite tall enough to scale.
I get a similar feeling with Ron Sexsmith live; you're so intent on willing him over the fences that you can't help but cheer him over the finishing line. Elvis stumbled so often that it elevated the moments of fleet footed grace: a vulnerably vivid, piano led 'Shipbuilding' (where Elvis showed that he'd obviously learnt a chording or two from his mate Burt Bacharach), the distorted guitar rant of 'Watching the Detectives', a delicately raw and tender rendering of 'She' and an acoustic mauling of 'Oliver's Army'.

Elvis came on like a manic snarling busker, teeth barred, tongue firmly in cheek, mimicking himself and loving his subject matter. As he grabbed us very gently by the throat the banter often eluded to recent reassessments of his life (the autobiography); much of the nostalgia focussed on the influence that his late father Ross had upon his work and waywardness; the wobble in his voice revealing an obvious affection for his Pater, often quite movingly so. Di whispered in my ear (not for the first time) that back in her dancing days she shared Blackpool digs with Elvis's Dad. They used to eat breakfast together you know, and Ross would talk proudly about his son Declan's musical career. It took Di a few Full English Breakfasts before she realized that Declan was in fact Elvis Costello.

You'd not want to follow Costello on a Karaoke night. Sawdust veined, he's a song-man sworn and bred and he knows it; a proven passion for pop intact, his talents toted, bagged and banked. I've seen Elvis live in many feisty forms: from the angry young man of the late 70s through to the crooning crusty crony of the 21st century. Last night he was an old magician, impishly dragging manky old rabbits out of a dusty, battered hat. His blustering swagger suggested a pasty but resplendent Prospero, confident that we could do nowt but admire his designs and be charmed by his tricks. Spirited, occasionally foolhardy but always brave, this was rough magic, but magic indeed.
Here he is; his father's son:

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