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After the release of the his most recent album My Flame Burns Blue, which was recorded live in 2004 with Holland’s METROPOLE ORKEST, ELVIS COSTELLO decided to do a small tour of some major cities, backed by those city’s orchestras. To finish off the tour, he played a date at BAM, backed by the BROOKLYN PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA.
I expected the setlist to be somewhat similar to My Flame Burns Blue, which is split between a set featuring Costello singing his own more familiar pop material, backed by the orchestra and long-time pianist STEVE NIEVE, and a set of his orchestral music (specifically the score to Il Sogno, an Italian version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream).
On this evening, the show started off with the orchestra, sans Costello, performing about 35 minutes of music from Il Sogno. After that, Costello came out and sang for the remainder of the show. The set ranged in material from well-known songs like “Alison,” “Veronica,” “Almost Blue,” and a radical re-working of “Watching the Detectives” (which missed the mark, due to its Vegas-like leanings) to lesser-known gems like the title track of 1996’s underrated All This Useless Beauty and “Upon a Veil of Midnight Blue,” a song Costello wrote for legendary R&B singer CHARLES BROWN.
Another highlight was Costello’s version of “Hora Decibutus,” a song by CHARLES MINGUS. The show ended with a version of “Couldn’t Call It Unexpected #4” (from 1991’s Mighty Like a Rose) that Costello sang off-mic, to take advantage of the wonderful acoustics at BAM. This is a technique that he loves to employ whenever he plays theaters and halls; he also did it briefly during a solo acoustic performance of “The River in Reverse,” the title track of his upcoming album of songs that he co-wrote and arranged with ALLEN TOUISSANT.
Overall, Costello was in excellent voice throughout. Although the setlist could’ve been better, the performance was generally excellent. There are many who would scoff at the concept of an artist who came into view during the punk/new wave era playing with an orchestra, writing symphonies, and recording songs like CHARLES AZNAVOUR’s “She” (which was played on this evening), but those people miss the point.
Costello has made a career out of never staying in one place, even if the process he’s alienated much of his original fan base. Those who have stayed with him can easily observe that his musical restlessness is more a function of curiousity and genuine love of music than it is ego or dilettantism, as hard as it may be for more cynical observers to swallow.