Elvis Costello, Usher Hall, review: A commanding show

The singer conjures period as much as emotion

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The Independent Culture

For some time now, Elvis Costello and his band have been appearing with a Wheel of Songs, an arrangement which has allowed eager audience members to select at random from his song catalogue.

Yet here, a solo Costello’s only onstage affectation was a glowing ‘On Air’ sign, its intimation of a radio session in progress and the modest arrangement of guitars and a piano around the singer reaching for an up-close-and-personal atmosphere.

As much as his artistry remained unimpeachable throughout the two and a half hour set, with Costello favourites ‘She’, ‘Watching the Detectives’, ‘Shipbuilding’ and ‘Oliver’s Army’ appearing amidst a slew of album tracks and covers, it was the power of his easy, downhome personality which carried the evening.

He regaled us with tales of writing ‘Accidents Will Happen’ in the back of a cab on the road to Mexico, his father playing the Royal Command Performance (not just for “no-hopers from X-Factor” back then) and his granddad working the White Star liner bands of the 1920s, even as his repertoire flitted between the music hall tribute ‘Walkin’ My Baby Back Home’, his stark contribution to Dylan’s New Basement Tapes ‘Lost On the River’ and the poignant ‘The Last Year of My Youth’, a song he debuted as a stand-in on Letterman.

As a songwriter, his ability to conjure period as much as emotion is what commands a show like this.

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