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Elvis Costello At The Beacon Theater Last Night: First A Mistake And Then Brilliant

First Costello was awesome and then he was fair to middling for an hour and a half and then he was awesome again. In front of a hometown audience and in front of his session players deluxe the Sugarcanes, the four eyed fiend opened with a rollicking cover of Hoagy Carmichael’s “My Resistant Is Low” (you remember: “I’m going overboard with a capital O…”). EC originally tried it on “The Kojack Variety” but it wasn’t up too much if you knew the original. Last night Hoagy must have been smiling to himself as EC does what he can do with a good cover: he plays it straight and gives it his all.

But then a less than thrilling song from “Secret, Profane and Sugarcane,” stops the proceeding. “My All Time Doll” is one of his clickety click dark hued songs he once did so well (think “Shabby Doll”) but hasn’t really pulled off since “Kinder Murder”. And now we are getting an idea of what we are in for, one oldie, one newie, a back up band that is not the Imposters let alone the Attractions when it comes to chemistry and a schitzo bluegrass, countryish high culture low brow Nashville cats hybrid and anyway if you wanna hear this stuff catch Ralph Stanley at Highline Ballroom on July 12th and see how it is meant to be done.

They can’t get momentum and it dragged down both the oldies and the new ones: it dragged down “I Felt the Chill before the Winter Came” which seriously missed Loretta Lynn’s back up vocals (she co-wrote it), it dragged down an ill chosen “Our Little Angels” which crashed and burned, startingly, it dragged down “Blame It On Cain”. Didn’t kill em mind, made them ordinary and stiff instead of swing.

And the first song of the first encore was “Red Cotton” (a song about slavery in the South… Slavery In the South? How about what the Egyptians did to the Jews: God had to intervene there so you know it was bad) which sounds awful like Allan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah“. It is tenish and another forty minutes to go and things are about to get better…

But first “Secret, Profane and Sugarcane” by the numbers…
14 Songs including the Itunes bonus song
4 excerpts from the aborted Hans Christian Andersen opera. All abortions.
1 Preposterous cover
1 Lousy rerecording of a song from “All This Useless Beauty”.
1 Nothing special rerecording of song from “All This Useless Beauty”.
1 of the worst songs ever written about slavery
1 truly awful piece of rock noir
1 Pleasant enough knees up about wimmen
1 Really good song about drinking
1 excellent song co-written with Loretta Lynn
1 excellent cover of a Bing Crosby song
1 best song he has written (with T-Bone Burnett) in a coupla albums.
So 5 keepers out of 14. A solid “C”.

Anyway, after “Red Cotton” I am thinking of home but EC does the best song off the newbie”The Crooked Line” and does it well and follows it with “American Without Tears”.

I had not been overwhelmed by other “King Of America” songs last night: “Indoor Fireworks” “Little Palaces,” “Our Little Angel,” and “Brilliant Mistake” (as a long parenthesis: I don’t like the change of a lyric to give Springsteen a nod on the latter but it does make sense. Costello covered “Brilliant Disguise” on a tribute album a coupla years ago -a song released on Springsteen’s genius “Tunnel Of Love” album and the same year as “Brilliant Mistake” was released on Costello’s equally genius “King Of America” in 1986). However, on the third song of the encore Costello performss a gorgeous and moving version that would’ve been perfect except EC buggers up the “Tears” singalong he requests from the audience. In 199
5 he played a string on concerts at this very venue, working out the songs that would eventually be recorded for “All This Useless Beauty,” and had us singalong to “Accidents Will Happen” and we did exactly that (just the “I know, i know”) till he stopped us -easily 5 minutes in. But the problem wasn’t the obscurity of “American Without Tears”(this was his audience, we all knew it by heart) but that he hadn’t figured out our part in it. He chose to have us do to lalalalaaaa which were in 3 part time and we stumbled. We coulda handled the last two lines of the chorus easy.

He introduces the band for the fourth time.

Lights into perfect versions of “Red Shoes,” “Everyday I Write the Book,” a riotous “Sulfur To Sugarcane” and a righteous”Alison” where half way through he used the words from “He has To go” to the melody of “Alison” and ended the night with Nick Lowe’s “Peace, Love And understanding” and the Grateful Dead’s “Friend Of the Devil” nearly three hours after he started.

So, no, this wasn’t the Costello show to end all Costello show, the band were boring, they needed a drummer (the low point? “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down”), and he is walking a dog round the States with the Sugarcane album but he is EC and he is always a blast to watch once he gets going and he eventually got going. Grade? “B+”.

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