Birmingham Symphony Hall
“You can go home now, you’ve seen all the hits” yelled The Beloved Entertainer as he strode to centre stage, the giant TV set behind him having played promos from his past while we awaited his arrival. (why don’t more bands put thought into entertaining the audience during these longueurs? – The White Stripes used to show old 50s cartoons). It’s a tricky balancing act he takes on these days – rewarding the trainspotters (Hello!) with rarely played nuggets while satisfying those there to hear ‘Oliver’s Army’ and She. Tonight he pulled it off superbly in a two hour set that spanned the years as he painted himself in the same vaudeville tradition as his father and grandfather.
He opens with two songs from the same vintage but years apart, ‘Red Shoes’ and ‘Blue Minute’ – both demoed for ‘My Aim Is True’ but the latter not seeing the light of day until the umpteenth reissue of his debut. There was a sparkiness and energy in his delivery of even familiar material. “Look out music lovers, I’m gonna play the piano’ he once yelled on a live B-side’ which was felt on last years jaunt where a shonky electric keyboard made songs like ‘Shipbuilding’ sound like musak to my ears. Fellow gig attendee @SteveT remarked that his other half must have been giving him a few pointers as his playing on that and ‘Shot With His Own Gun’ was fine although missing Steve Nieve’s effortless light and shade.
He paid tribute to local boys, The Move, with a verse and chorus – “it’s all I know” – of the mighty ‘Blackberry Way’ who I assume have a star on the Brum Walk Of Fame that runs past the venue. I spotted Jeff Lynne, Murray Walker, Noddy Holder & Tony Iommi among others. The dreaded ‘She’ reared it’s head during a section that Elvis performed on a rocking chair under a standard lamp. Shorn of its sticky strings and bombast, low key with softly picked strings it became Parisian café introspection with no vibrato but still as yearning.
His brother , Ronan Macmanus, whose Brand New Zeros had opened the night, joined for a strum through crowd-pleasers ‘Good Year For The Roses’ and ‘Oliver’s Army’ before Elvis appeared inside the big TV to ‘Pump It Up’. A slowed down piano take of ‘I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down’ bought it back to the original Sam & Dave version which was my personal highlight along with the guitar loop and feedback squall of ‘I Want You’. The fact there was room for ‘Peace Love & Understanding’ & the underrated ‘Mr Feathers’ from the criminally underrated ‘Momofuku’ in tonight’s set shows there was something for everyone.
A woman behind me was constantly texting and occasionally chatting during the support slot which made me fear she was another reluctant attendee dragged along so the male fan didn’t have to go to a gig alone – the horror! However she, like everyone else, was so well behaved and enthusiastic, better class of audience all round in Birmingham I find.
It made me think..
That this fabulous venue seems to bring out something special in Mr Costello – whether it’s the audience, the ambiance or response but it makes the trip up the M40 worthwhile.