Live @ The Tabernacle
Atlanta, Georgia : 10/28/99
By: Eric G.
He may only vaguely resemble that angry young man that shot him into the public arena over twenty years ago, but Elvis Costello still breathes fire when it comes to performing. He took the stage at this old converted church in Atlanta, Georgia with hardly any lights and ripped through “Alibi Factory”, his voice practically overpowering his guitar amplifier. Joining Costello throughout the intimate show on piano was longtime bandmate and former Attraction, Steve Nieve. The two skipped across Costello’s long and varied career with new songs, obscurities, and loads of classics. The crowd was ready for Elvis as it sang all of the back up parts and even mimicked the absent drum bits. Costello was visibly moved by the reaction and put on an unbelievable show.
Apart from his ridiculously prolific and consistent gift for songcraft, Costello’s bread and butter has always been his voice. The contempt he can muster with the slightest inflection is enough to make you feel worthless. His singing range has expanded thanks to artistic pursuits off the beaten path like his collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet and his recent work with Burt Bacharach. Costello’s songs not only stand the test of time but they blaze with the immediacy and conviction with which they were written. Even new ones like “45” show a startling amount of passion for an artist preparing to enter his fourth decade making music. Costello’s pen has always balanced a frustrated sense of alienation and disenchantment (mostly with women/relationships) with a disarmingly perceptive and often times unflattering eye.
It’s a daunting task to have to entertain a crowd with only a guitar and a piano, but Costello and Nieve have mastered the art. They’ve toured together as a duo long enough to know how to keep the energy alive as they proved with a boxed set of their performances from 1996. Costello played all the right songs and paced them strategically. “Man Out Of Time” off Imperial Bedroom hit hard early in the set, but it was “Little Triggers” off This Year’s Model that made me starstruck. Elvis Costello surely has to be the most underrated songwriter of our time. I can think of no other musician who has written such a breadth of classic songs yet has remained on the outer brink of the public’s consciousness the entire time.
After the initial set, which included “Girls Talk”, “Motel Matches” and “Shabby Doll”, Costello left the stage only to return five more times. It got to be a joke after the fourth encore. He strolled up to the mic and tried to play coy by pointing at his guitar and then at himself like “you want me to play for you?” The crowd played along and remained on its feet cheering the entire time. “Alison” was inevitable, of course, but “Green Shirt” was a complete surprise. Elvis played a hollow-bodied guitar while Nieve triggered electronic samples. It was amazing. Elvis’ prowess on the guitar is almost as underrated as his songwriting. The finest moment of the night, though, was a vitriolic version of “I Want You” off Blood And Chocolate, which is easily one of Costello’s best songs.
The rest of the fifth encore was a string of classics: “The Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes”, “Radio, Radio”, “Beyond Belief”, and “Accidents Will Happen.” For the final song, however, Costello and Nieve turned off all amplification and played “Couldn’t Call It Unexpected #4” off Mighty Like A Rose. It is an amazing feat to be able to belt out a song that powerfully after having sung 38 songs for almost three straight hours. The whole club was silent as Costello’s voice surged throughout the club and Nieve’s piano remained merely a distant ricochet. Costello and Nieve soaked up the crowd’s adoration before leaving for the last time. While I wish I could have seen Elvis Costello and the Attractions back in 1978, I doubt it could have been this rewarding. What a show.