ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE IMPOSTERSPhilharmonic Hall 11/7/16
Sometimes, homecomings can be a bit of a disappointment: overhyped sentimentalism, self-indulgence, or a legend who lives in the past and whose voice left them 20 years previously, left to rely on the audience to hit those notes that their vocal chords could only manage in their pomp. ELVIS COSTELLO doesn’t fit into that category; ever the perfectionist, always pushing and striving to surprise his followers, his voice as strong and fresh as ever. Looking trimmer and younger than his years, Costello arrives on stage wearing a dark suit reminiscent of Johnny Cash, and sporting the customary shades that are a staple of the rock star’s wardrobe.
Costello found fame in the 1970s, born in London to two musical Liverpool parents – his father, Ross McManus, was a jazz trumpeter and singer with The Joe Loss Orchestra in the 50s and 60s, also famed for the R Whites Lemonade advert of the 70s, on which a younger Elvis sang backing vocals. After his parents’ divorce he returned to Liverpool with his mother, Lillian, as a teenager, wondering where he would fit in. After missing the Merseybeat era and not being a glam rocker, the young Declan McManus found the sound of punk rock that spoke of the dissolution of a generation, the establishment and politics: ring any bells?
The first part of tonight’s two-and-a-half-hour set starts with Opening Tears, with songs Pump It Up, I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea and Watching The Detectives making an early appearance in the set. The Philharmonic crowd can be a strange bunch, it’s as if everybody is glued to their seats and afraid to get up and enjoy themselves. Costello, trying his utmost to engage the crowd, passionately bellows out Oliver’s Army as if it’s the first time round. Costello tells us he “finds it hard to stay positive these days”, but for first time he has his four boys and Lillian watching him. He also gets the audience to sing a rendition of Happy Birthday to his proud mother.
Noted for being one of the great lyricists of his generation, Costello has a varied catalogue to choose from. His band have two of the original members from the Attractions days, Steve Nieve (Keyboards) and Pete Thomas (Drums). If one thing is for certain, Costello likes to keep his audience guessing and he returns for the encore but delivers more of a second-half act, with another 30 minutes. Nowadays, when Costello speaks there is a strange American twang to his accent, probably due to his hanging out with too many country acts in Nashville or listening to Spencer Leigh on Radio Merseyside.
Ultimately, the main man delivers a very stripped-back set in the grand hall, where he seems to be at home. No gimmicks or special guests are needed, and the numbers still come thick and fast: Tramp The Dirt Down and Shipbuilding chime with the historical moments in our society that this country has recently witnessed, with change hanging heavily in the air. Moving effortlessly into a short version of She, Costello then blends into Good Year For The Roses as he shows off all of his wide talents.
Paying homage to the city where he grew up and which influenced his music and his writing, Costello delivers his own tribute to The Beatles with Polythene Pam and I Saw Her Standing There. If ever there was a homecoming that showed his roots really do lie in this city, this was it. Finally, Alison and Pump It Up have the audience up on their feet, providing a fitting end to an epic night at the Phil.