Elvis Costello at O'Shaughnessy Auditorium, 6/9/14

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Steve Cohen

Elvis Costello
O'Shaughnessy Auditorium, St. Paul
Monday, June 9, 2014

One power of Elvis Costello is knowing the everyman better than the everyman knows himself. His words have always held that deep, dark, truthful mirror in front of the rest of us, and a solo performance put those erudite, humorous, and illuminating words to the test. Without any Attractions, Imposters, or special guests, this was the first performance on a new solo tour for the 59-year-old dabbler in nearly everything considered rock 'n' roll since the expression was invented.

In mostly black attire -- coat, tie, shirt, and jeans, with accents via his fedora and green socks -- Costello had an enduring cool about him. Between songs, he also wore a twinkling gap-toothed grin at select moments. For well over two hours, Costello worked a stage filled with a few guitars, a keyboard, and a pair of illuminated signs that read "On Air" and "Detour."

See also:
Slideshow: Elvis Costello goes solo at O'Shaughnessy

Photo by Steve Cohen

The current running through Costello's four decades as a songwriter, he pointed out, actually traces back to his performer father's influence, and his grandfather's days playing songs on cruise ships too. Within stories of his early days was an oft-present humility bringing him closer to the audience. Then he'd throw something in like, "I wrote this song in 10 minutes," when referring to "Everyday I Write the Book" to remind us why the tickets were $70. "It was a hit, so I felt guilty," he added. "But not that big of a hit, so I didn't feel that guilty."

For well-traveled songs like "Watching the Detectives," which he's played nightly for most of his career, Costello sent visible shivers up and down our spines by deconstructing the melody a bit and letting experimental guitar work tell the story. The looping dissonant soloing between verses heightened the foreboding aspects of his composition. This wasn't any Bob Dylan-style guessing game. Even if he changed his tune, the lyrical components were still front-and-center to fawn over.

Costello shifted seamlessly -- save a few breaks to walk offstage and possibly decide which songs would appear next in his music stand monitors -- between different styles of material. He unfurled rancor for the jealous anthem "Come the Meantimes" off last year's Wise Up Ghost with the Roots, and added echo to his mic for a call and response with himself. He recomposed his demeanor for the giddy old standard "Walkin' My Baby Back Home" -- complete with one of the night's three whistling solos -- without any hesitation.

Photo by Steve Cohen

"Radio Soul," which dates back to Costello's teen days in Flip City prior to his breakout, was mostly "Radio, Radio" but with less bitterness and more Who-style guitar breaks. He then played a straight version of "Alison," one of the most tender songs of a career half-filled with trying more than a little tenderness. The audience sang with him for the final chorus. Had he closed the night right then and there, it would've been a satisfactory show. But the consummate showman was only a little over half finished with the night.

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