For those fans investing in a slice of late-period Elvis Costello live action – and there were many of them here – it’s an all-or-nothing experience. Anyone hoping for a cheery, nostalgic run-through of the wide range of punk-pop hits Costello wrote around 1980 will be … well, not disappointed, because Costello is an astute curator of his own legacy and most of them appeared here.
Elvis Costello ****
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Yet every other Costello appeared too: the latterday rock anthropologist delving into genres from Creole blues to Southern gospel and Irish folk; the capable crooner who duetted with Burt Bacharach; and Declan MacManus, his real identity, Irish-Liverpudlian son of music hall performer Ross MacManus and grandson of cruise liner trumpeter turned street corner Depression-era busker Pat MacManus.
That Costello was here for this third-from-final date on his Detour tour without any other musicians only added to the sense of biographical intimacy. Dressed in black shirt and trousers and a bright red fedora, his occasionally over-studied sense of showmanship hadn’t deserted him, but the rawness of two dozen songs for guitar or piano spread out over two-and-a-half hours told a tale; these were songs which held stories for him as well as for the audience, making for a deeply immersive experience.
He delved into the mind of a wealthy presidential autocrat amid A Face in the Crowd and Viceroy’s Row; remembered his father, “Birkenhead’s musical link between Dizzy Gillespie and Jimmy Shand”, before the sublime lyrical precision of he and Bacharach’s Toledo; delivered Veronica with breakneck briskness and Alison while off-mic with hymnal delicacy; and brought almost funereal levels of heartache and regret to I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down and Oliver’s Army.