You’re just not going to get me to say anything bad about Elvis Costello.
While the set list for his show with the N.C. Symphony last week wasn’t exactly as I would have written it (but is it ever?), there was hardly a thing I would’ve changed about the night.
The first half of the set opened with the symphony playing two songs off of Costello’s 2004 classical release Il Sogno.
“In my version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck is a jazz faerie,” Costello said, introducing “Puck One.”
It wasn’t long before Costello returned to the stage to perform a few more songs before intermission. “All This Useless Beauty,” “Still Too Soon to Know” and “The Girl in the Other Room” — the latter a song by Costello’s wife Diana Krall — served almost to whet the palate of the audience before going to intermission. None of them huge hits or even particularly upbeat, but still showcasing the power of Costello’s voice and the weight of the symphony behind it.
The same, of course, could not be said for the second set of the evening.
Walking out to wild applause, Costello slung a guitar over his shoulder and began rapidly strumming the intro of “Veronica.”
Joined by longtime collaborator Steve Nieve on the baby grand, Costello proved that he is just as at home fronting a symphony as he is a rock band.
Though I’m sure it didn’t hurt his comfort level that Nieve also brought along the melodica and synthesizer, even if the bloops and bleeps garnered chuckles from a few unsuspecting audience members.
Some of the songs I was most looking forward to hearing however, did not include the orchestra. “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding,” “Bedlam” and “The River in Reverse” (with an insert of lyrics from John Lennon’s “I Don’t Want To Be a Soldier”) were all played sans strings, brass and woodwinds as Costello and Nieve went it alone.
Though when the pulled it out, they went all out.
“Watching the Detectives,” instead of having a 2 tone beat — an English fusion of ska, reggae, punk and pop that originated in the late 1970s — sounded more like the Pink Panther meets 007 with a jazzy orchestral intro.
“She,” I’m a big enough of a sap to admit, was one of the highlights of the evening for me. Costello’s cover of the song appeared in the film “Notting Hill.”
“There’s no escape. It’s completely a romantic ballad,” Costello said, adding that he was an unlikely choice to sing such a song. “That’s like getting Steve Buscemi to play the George Clooney role. But now I’m all in love so I can sing it.”
“Scarlet Tide,” sounded just as heartbreaking as when Alison Krauss sang it on the Cold Mountain soundtrack.
“I send this out to all of you who have friends overseas. I hope you see them very soon indeed,” Costello said.
It was one of a couple political moments Costello took during the evening, though he was always diplomatic and even humorous, even if opinionated.
“I love this country,” he said. “It’s not the act of a traitor to question your government if you think they’re wrong.”
During the song, much of the audience burst into applause on the line “And bring the boys back home.”
[photos by Kevin Norris]