Support comes from the Brand New Zeros, a four-piece from Watford who are playing here tonight as a two-piece as Elvis Costello’s current “Detour Tour” is largely going to be an acoustic show. They play a selection of foot-tapping folky tunes and it’s a fine way to keep the seated audience entertained. The band is fronted by Elvis Costello’s brother Ronan MacManus, further indication of the musical family the main act is a part of.
After a short interval during which a selection of Costello videos are shown, a dapper Elvis Costello arrives on stage to a warm greeting from the packed house. He’s just started what is to be a 21-date solo UK tour and throughout the evening he proceeds to keep us entertained with anecdotes about his musical career to date and the inspirations for some of the 400 songs that he tells us he’s written during his impressive career.
The stage is nicely decorated with a huge TV screen at the back onto which he projects photos of his family. There’s also seven guitars lined up, most of which will get played during the two hour show, as well as a piano stage left. Referring to Brighton as “the weird sex capital of Sussex”, he’s in a good mood as he kicks off the show with acoustic versions of “Red Shoes” and “Lip Service”.
He tells us a road trip to Mexico resulted in his infidelity and led to him writing “Accidents Will Happen”, and he gets the audience to whisper the “I know, I know” refrain from the song over and over as the tune finishes. Long gone is the skinny Costello snarling his lyrics with thinly disguised venom. Instead, he sings the songs with warmth, feeling and genuine passion and they sound all the more powerful for this stripped down delivery. (As an aside, check out the link at the end of this review for an acoustic version of “Jump Around” by Everlast from House Of Pain to hear how a song can be transformed by a stripped down acoustic delivery).
Costello makes use of the piano to play us a new song about a woman who has left one man for another, sung from the point of view of the woman singing to her old lover. It’s a bittersweet tale, containing the lyric “the past can be bought and then erased”. Still at the piano he plays “Shipbuilding”, his brilliant anti war song sounding even more relevant in these X Factor days of non protest music and Twitterati fame.
Another anecdote details his background growing up in Liverpool and his relationship with his father, who sang with the Joe Loss orchestra and performed “If I Had A Hammer” at the Royal Variety Performance that The Beatles made a big impression on. He also uses his TV projection screen to us footage of his dad performing the song.
Next he plays “American Without Tears” before launching straight into “Pump It Up” which gets the audience noticeably more animated. Always one for appreciating other people’s song writing, he also sings “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” and his cover version of “She” by Charles Aznavor, using a giant megaphone instead of a microphone to deliver the vocals saying it feels more appropriate to sing that particular song in that way.
The finale is a deliberately extended affair, with Costello leaving the stage and repeatedly coming back to play some more. He storms through “Oliver’s Army”, his ode to jingoism and once again it sounds as relevant) as ever, the Brand New Zeros coming back on stage to play guitar and add backing vocals. Next, Costello walks to the back of the stage and climbs into the TV screen to deliver a dynamic “Pump It Up.
Returning to the front of the stage, he uses a looping pedal to back himself up on “Watching The Detectives”, playing extended solos over the main looped riff and really rocking out with the song. “Good Year For The Roses” gets a good reception as does “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down” before he finally finishes with a rousing version of the Nick Lowe classic “What’s So Funny (‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding)?”
With a huge canon of songs to choose from, you’re always going to get an entertaining show from Elvis Costello, a man who knows how to pen a great tune. It’s always a pleasure to hear and see one of Britain’s greatest ever songwriters playing live.