I’ve seen a number of amazing shows so far this year.
Bruce Springsteen, four times…each different and each amazing.
Jackson Browne at the Largo holding a room spellbound.
The Head and the Heart at Coachella with the most amazing harmonies floating into the late afternoon heat.
The passion of Frank Turner twice and even the cool funk of the Dukes of September as the covered Buddy Miles, Sly Stone and the Isley Brothers.
But, tonight Elvis Costello put on a jaw-dropping show that I’d hold up alongside any of them, maybe only giving Bruce a slight edge due to the sheer force and power of his shows. This was a different animal than that…so to compare them would be like apples to hubcaps…just not worth even trying. Two different things, by two different artists with a clear vision and ability to age not just gracefully, but relevantly as they do so.
I saw Elvis with the Impostors back in 2002 in Long Beach, then I saw him solo in a show similar to this at the Queens Hall in London in 2002. That show was good, this show was great. (Even though Richard Thompson guested with him in London…)
Surrounded by an array of guitars and piano, he played a near two hour set that ranged from the feedback soaked loops of “Watching the Detectives” to the un-amplified hushed tones of his set closing “Allison”. He played the hits, but some of the most compelling moments were the newer songs and covers. Opening with a strong “Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes” and it’s brilliant opening line: “…Oh, I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused…” that transitioned into one of the best covers of Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” since Levon Helm did it back in the 70’s. That seemed to set the tone for the evening…even though the tour was called the “2054 The Centenary Tour” in a mocking reference to his 100th birthday…(coming up in only 42 years…) He later mentioned learning after naming the tour that Americans call it a centennial, and thus many had read it as the “cemetery tour” and expected a Halloween show.
He was an engaging host throughout the evening, telling stories about his dad singing in workingman’s clubs, singing a song about his three sons and dedicating a sweet version of “Walking My Baby Back Home” to his “gal” (Diana Krall, who he admitted missing very much in the intro). It had all the best informality of sitting around and listening to the most talented friend you know play music, but he never wandered too far or slowed the momentum of the show.
Three tracks from his National Ransom album from a couple years ago really stood out to me, as did a gripping version of “Bedlam” from his DeliveryMan album. The National Ransom songs: “Jimmie in the rain” which told the sad tale of a performer with a suitcase containing a book of poetry and a lariat he used “late at night” with further comments reserved as it was a family show…”A Slow Drag with Josephine” with it’s 1920’s swing…and most grippingly a menacing take on “Stations of the Cross” that traded the produced feel of the album version for a version that was deeper and richer in it’s stripped down simplicity. I couldn’t find a good solo version on YouTube, so here’s one with the Roots from Jimmy Fallon.<p><a
Other standouts were the hits: “Veronica”, “Everyday I Write the Book” and a ukulele plucked version of the old Glenn Miller standard “I Know Why”. It was just one of those amazing nights when it all clicks. Sure, I’d have loved to have heard a dozen different songs…he has a big catalog. But, I wouldn’t trade a single note out to replace anything he did.
This one goes right to the top of my annual list into some very good company. Shows like this are why I go in the first place…magic happens that you’ll never get off a recording.
Until next time…
(Which is actually Friday night for the Head and the Heart at the Wiltern!)