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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Elvis Costello @ The Riverside Theater

June 10, 2014

elvis costello solo live 2014 riverside theater
Photo credit: Benjamin Wick
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For someone who’s usually thought of as a solo artist, Elvis Costello rarely goes it alone. He’s been through at least two official backing bands, the Attractions for much of the 1980s and the Imposters in the 2000s, plus any number of hired studio hands along the way, and, what’s more, has jumped at any and every chance to work with other artists. In fact, in the last decade Costello has released nearly as many collaborative albums as he has solo works, and even those credited to him alone feature the contributions of everyone from Emmylou Harris to the goddamn London Symphony Orchestra. It’s an intriguing proposition then to see how he handles performing live all on his lonesome, as he’s set out to do on his current world tour.

The idea to hit the road by himself certainly didn’t seem to hurt ticket sales in the slightest, but then again his fanbase of middle-aged white folks is pretty loyal, as evidenced by the passionate applause that greeted Costello as he scampered onstage, picked up one of the several waiting guitars and launched, with nary a word, into “Jack of All Parades” from 1986’s King of America. Given the nature of the show, the easy thing to do would be to go through and carefully cherry-pick songs that already lend themselves to stripped-down, singer-songwriter-esque arrangements, but, admirably, the set that followed was diverse and studded here and there with some of his biggest hits, including a surprising number of selections from his flawless 1977 debut, My Aim Is True.

Unsurprisingly with the risky song choices, the results were, overall, a little uneven, so while something simple and sentimental, like “Alison” or the piano-driven “Shipbuilding,” translated more less effortlessly, when he tried something more complicated, like laying down the insistent, rhythmic skank of “Watching the Detectives” using a loop pedal, things got a bit messy. There were other moments that some minor thing or another went wrong too, as when he slipped up and had to restart his sweet rendition of “Walking My Baby Back Home,” which would have passed unnoticed had there been a band there to cover the cracks, but whenever things got a little awkward, Costello, like some seasoned vaudevillian, had a joke at the ready. Ultimately, between that quick-witted stage presence and his time-tested songwriting, Costello doesn’t need much else.