You might have seen Elvis Costello in Liverpool over half a dozen times since 2008 – but you’ve never seen him do the same thing twice. Even when he brought ‘The Spectacular Spinning Songbook’ to town a couple of times in a little over a year, the setlist at the Liverpool Empire was unrecognisable from the second concert at the Philharmonic Hall a little while later.
He’s been back to the Phil a few times since, but always with something different under his hat. We’ve had a one-off with the RLPO, a solo show, Americana with The Sugarcanes and full on revenge and guilt from The Imposters. This time, Hope Street was rocked as Costello brought the noise, with his army of songs, to the stately room.
Perhaps it was the wrong room… as the seated crowd took a while to get going. The band didn’t, though. The four-piece flew out of the traps with ‘Big Tears’, ‘No Action’, ‘Watching The Detectives’ and ‘Moods For Moderns’ not pausing for breath or bridges. The bard from Birkenhead jousted with his Jazzmaster and kept the pace up for a frenetic first quarter of the two and a half hour show. Still, when you have a back catalogue as diverse and deadly as Declan’s, why pause for thought? The deep cuts kept coming as Costello used the occasion of touring without a record, a regular occurrence these days for the new wave pioneer, to indulge himself and his brilliant band. ‘Walk Us Uptown’ – from the 2013 album he made with The Roots – was a rocking revelation, ‘Clubland’ took a diversion or two down atonal paths, ‘Stations Of The Cross’ (from 2010’s ‘National Ransom’) matched chords and conscience, whilst ‘Bedlam’ brought the house down.
Surprisingly, the big lights appeared early, as the sold-out crowd were brought to their feet for ‘Oliver’s Army’ and ‘(What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace, Love & Understanding?’ just over an hour in. There was some panic as The Imposters left the stage with the boss… but worries were unfounded, as they all came back on for what was more like a second set, than an encore. Another hour of some of the most varied music you will ever hear from a four-piece beat combo was highlighted by a twitchy ‘Pills & Soap’, the brand new ‘A Face In The Crowd’, fan’s favourite ‘Green Shirt’ and a rocking ‘Alibi’. With about a dozen records mined for nuggets, you could be forgiven for wondering what one of our greatest songwriters had left… true fans knew.
Indeed, this was a night for them and the appreciation in the air was tangible when Costello took the band down the different alleys and avenues of ‘Night Rally’ and ‘All These Strangers’. The former, a tale of fascist rallies and corporate logos, boomed around the Phil like the promise of thunder, while the latter provided a gorgeous take on a modern classic and offered relief in the shapes and sounds of a soft summer rainstorm. It was that kind of night.
‘Tramp The Dirt Down’, greeted like a long-lost friend in this town, was updated from a delicate waltz to a determined, demented strum and was followed perfectly by a spacious ‘Good Year For The Roses’, highlighting the sour and sweet on offer at a Costello band show in 2016. A ‘Costello band show in 2016’… there’s a sentence to make you feel warm inside. The most cerebral singer and songwriter of his and possibly any other generation is still out there making noise and pointing fingers.
What a wonderful world this can be.
Pic by Mark McNulty