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Costello's aim still true

Could a one-time punk performer score with the Liverpool Phil? Matt Finnegan witnesses a perfect ten. Pix: Mark McNulty

Published on June 27th 2008.

Costello's aim still true

FROM the opening guitar chords of All This Useless Beauty it was clear this was going to be something special.

Elvis Costello was back in town.

But this time, despite the Attraction of Steve Nïeve sitting faithfully alongside, on keyboards, Declan McManus was accompanied by a new partner - the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. And what a perfect match they made.

They gave their privileged audience such a tour de force through almost every imaginable musical genre...that you couldn’t help but
wish that, especially in Capital of Culture year, every Liverpool schoolkid had been given a free seat at
the feet of such masters of music

Whether it was with the spine-tingling horns that punctuated God Give Me Strength – the breathtaking result of another impeccable collaboration, this time with Burt Bacharach – or the jazzy, smoky, saxophone menace of Watching The Detectives, Elvis and the Phil were an astonishing combination.

They gave their privileged audience such a tour de force through almost every imaginable musical genre – opera, rock, swing, country, soul, RnB, classical – that you couldn’t help but wish that, especially in Capital of Culture year, every Liverpool school kid had been given a free seat at the feet of such masters of music.

Then of course, there are the words. Costello is, probably, one of the greatest lyricists of the last 40 years - the only truly world class pop artist to have been produced by the banks of the Mersey since the Beatles.

And like all great artists, constantly re-inventing himself, challenging and being challenged.

He showcased his new work sensitively - three operatic songs about Hans Christian Andersen’s forlorn love for a Danish diva, accompanied by a guest appearance from the spellbinding Gisella Stille, which held the audience’s rapt attention in the first half. And towards the end, a haunting and beautifully simple love song to his three young sons.

Although it’s a long time since the angry and bewitching days of punk, when we pulled on our first pair of drainpipes and slouched into Probe to buy our 12-inch copies of My Aim is True, Costello’s qualities as a lyricist have thankfully never been dimmed by age.

He deals with the “big themes” – love,

loss, rejection, redemption – and it felt, looking around, as if he was providing the soundtrack to the lives of many in the middle-aged audience who have grown old with him.

His voice has matured too, seemingly growing ever more distinctive and unique as he happily embraces more conventional oeuvres, like the big ballad.But he served up a truly stonking version of Veronica – the rousing product of another collaboration with that other favourite son, Paul McCartney. Or “a young member of a local beat combo”, as Elvis described Macca in one of his many relaxed and jokey asides to the audience.

He got deadly serious, however, introducing a gut-wrenching performance of ShipBuilding, his condemnation of Thatcherism now re-presented for not-so-different times and “something I never thought I would see – a Labour Prime Minister starting an illegal war”.

And the highlights kept coming – a gob-smackingly powerful She; a wonderfully lilting Accidents Will Happen; and a tempestuous and insistent I Still Have That Other Girl.

Through them all, the Phil, under conductor Clark Rundell, crackled and fizzed with life and energy. Saxophonist Rob Buckland, in particular, got deserved plaudits from EC for performing the seemingly impossible in such outwardly staid surroundings - bringing the rawness of New Orleans to Hope Street.

“That’s the Capital of Culture, right there!” Elvis exclaimed, pointing behind him to the trendily black-clad orchestra, after one especially blistering crescendo.

The beautiful Alison segued seamlessly into Smoky’s The Tracks of My Tears and then the heartfelt Oscar-nominated epic, The Scarlet Tide. All beautifully, magnificently done.

On a night in Liverpool, in 2008, which, when all the bad news about the "Capital of Cock-ups" is washed out like a lip print on a shirt, will stay painted in the memory.

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8 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Howard N. WyndhamJune 26th 2008.

The Royal Court is a smelly, scruffy dump these days.Elvis Costello's first big perfomance in t'Pule was at the Empire as part of the Stiff Tour '77. I bumped into him three times in the street that day

PoloJune 26th 2008.

What a wonderful feeling this article gives, despite all the maddness of the world, calm seems to have been found in the Phil when Elvis came a calling.Well done Matt for a good report.

Nick LoweJune 26th 2008.

Doh! You're right,Former Wild Child, I'd forgotten Jonah Lewie! It must be the thirty years of jazz woodbines...

Former Wild ChildJune 26th 2008.

Sorry, I was in the kitchen at that particular party.

Former Wild ChildJune 26th 2008.

Ah yes! Kirsty McColl, Wreckless Eric and Ian Dury and the Blockheads. I was 12 and not allowed out but went anyway.

Jim McCabeJune 26th 2008.

It certainly made a change from the lovable old fleapit that is the Royal Court. Costello was superb. It was by far the most musically cerebral & varied concert he's played in what he describes on his website as "the closest thing I have to a hometown". Costello being Costello, the cock-ups that have disfigured this supposed year of civic culture hadn't escaped his attention; he hinted that the farce over the McCartney Anfield gig accounted for his no-show. Credit, too, to the RLPO for their part in a stunning evening.

RealistJune 26th 2008.

As Kirsty McColl and Ian Dury are now dead you could have a reunion gig call it the "Stiff" tour in every sense

Nick LoweJune 26th 2008.

Hey! Aren't you forgetting someone, Former Wild Child?

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