WITH Elton John retiring from live tours soon, it will surely fall to Elvis Costello to take up the mantle of Most Prolifically Touring Elder Brit Artist. Regularly seen on stages in these parts, in recent years he’s brought solo tours and the amusingly carnivalesque Wheel of Songs show, in which he picked his setlist from a rotating disc of them.
Playhouse, Edinburgh ****
This latest tour with his group The Imposters was a more traditional full-band affair, although it was very much in keeping with his latterday persona as a mid-Atlantic bluesman, rather than the spiky new wave image which he left behind by the time the 1980s were up. Dark-suited, and surrounded by three other players and a pair of backing singers, Costello brings a touch of atmospheric menace to even his classic tracks. I Don’t Want to Go to Chelsea was boiled-down and plaintive; Watching the Detectives descended into a squalling blues morass; and I Want You was an epically dense and even disturbing portrait of embittered maleness.
Yet his ability as an entertainer is never far from the surface, and after an encore return which ended up being only the midway point in the set, more tender piano versions emerged of Alison, Oliver’s Army and Shipbuilding, as well as the overtly political A Face in the Crowd, from his in-development Broadway musical.
Only towards the end did any sense of pleasing the casual fans in the crowd turn up, with lively, faithful versions of I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down, High Fidelity and Pump It Up, the finale to a show which felt more like a journey.