"I've heard some real horror stories [about 2008]," remarked Elvis Costello at his concert with the RLPO at the Phil last night.
"They're all true!", someone in the audience called back.
Costello being Costello, it was inevitable that the shenanigans & cock-ups that have disfigured Liverpool's year of culture hadn't escaped his attention. Indeed, he hinted at the farce thrown up by Bradley, Harborrow, et al , as the reason for his no-show at the McCartney Anfield gig.
Costello's appearance at the venue, his first since 1985, was billed as different to his normal gigs. Certainly, it was the most musically cerebral & varied performance he's given in what he describes as "the nearest thing I have to a hometown".
The Liverpool audience, so used to seeing him in the good old fleapit that is the Royal Court, both recognised & appreciated it.
As well as the RLPO, Costello was joined by conductor, Clark Rundle, double bassist, Chris Laurence, drummer, Martin France, saxophonist, Rob Buckland, &, of course, his old Attractions keyboardist, Steve Naive on piano. Proceedings began with "All This Useless Beauty", a number clearly designed to get the crowd into the mood of the evening. "Almost Blue" was given an arrangement which made it all the more spectral.
The three numbers Costello performed from his "Il Sogno" opera, with Swedish soprano, Gisela Stille, were received politely rather than rapturously. However, "The Birds Will Still Be Singing" went down better with an audience intrigued by the set, yet itching for the old favourites to appear.
The second half of the evening delivered at least some of the old goods; "Green Shirt" augmented by percussive typewriter, "Veronica", penned with McCartney ("a member of an up and coming beat combo"), & "Watching The Detectives", given a jazzy big band feel by the orchestra, were wheeled out. "Shipbuilding" was enthusiastically greeted, not least for Costello's preceding comment that he thought he'd never see in his lifetime an illegal war [Iraq] supported by "a celebrated Labour leader".
[It's just a pity that he publicly supported Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries a while back, given her equally firm backing of the conflict.]
There were still curveballs thrown in the second half of the show, the Billy Strayhorn & Charles Mingus numbers, for instance. However, the crowd warmed more to the jazzy up-beat treatment of them after the studiedly classical first half.
Given the mood & arrangement of the concert, it was inevitable that there would be obvious omissions (no "Pump It Up" or "Oliver's Army"), but it would have been interesting to hear "Good Year For The Roses" in this setting. As it was, a near three hour set, the fifteen minute interval notwithstanding, came to a close with a spine-tingling acapella version of "Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4".
In this year of years the local media are full of filler articles about the city's favourite sons & daughters. The usual suspects are mentioned ad nauseam (the Fabs, Doddy, Gerry Marsden, etc.), but Costello is given only an infrequent look-in, presumably because, as he himself admits, he didn't spend all his childhood & adolescence on Merseyside. It's time to rectify that; as Liverpool journalist Paul Du Noyer once noted, Costello was "a Scouser waiting to happen".