Beating at the centre of Paddington born songwriter Elvis Costello is a man that has truly experienced every musical occasion from his roots within London’s pub-rock scene to leading the first wave of punk; all modes that have adorned his 38 year jaunt as perhaps Britain’s most enduring troubadours.
Costello the maverick; Costello the romantic; Costello the irked; Costello the weary; Costello the bleary; Costello the humourist – for a man with as many dimensions as the 60 year old, the regularity upon which he removed himself from one persona subtly into the next was as imposing as his sharp voice and colourful anecdotes. The ambience set within Southampton’s Guildhall on this sun-kissed Friday was of grandiose intimacy; opposing the vast, tinted screen reeling off afterthoughts through his compositions and daunting radio equipment that offset his illuminating Gandalf the White hat.
At the crux of Costello’s set was a desire to revive aged tales of travelling, Bill Gates and smoking cigars at the age of eight – all the yarns expressed contained elements of scripted warmth, delivered in Costello’s dry temper.
And for all the raised smiles these bought, reminders that this was indeed a formal music concert and not a rebuked late night chat show with a former punk pin-up were crisply produced against this softening backdrop. The aggressive ‘Accidents Will Happen’ – one of the many once Attractions tracks to be unearthed again, Costello’s voice wandered across its verse before lifting ardently above the cooling acoustic below – had Southampton humming back to their wordsmith. ‘Stella Hurt’ harshly conflicted the sobering piano led ‘Shipbuilding’ – warmth radiated this time through Costello’s understanding of technology, the fingers of Costello would react to the ardour of its melody line with spontaneous explosions of shimmering chords – as the biting, blues setting composed by Costello’s brashly struck guitar would allow his weathered, but still resolutely theatrical, tone to implode.
Costello’s sentimental value at delivering his chief tracks such as ‘Oliver’s Army’ – the tenacious passages of genuine pop at its peak, the stripped down allure of instantly pleasing hooks cemented the tune’s status as Costello’s most sanguine number – and his rendition of Charles Aznavour’s ‘She’ – most memorable from ‘Notting Hill’, the quaking potency of crushing melody meets simmering reluctance leaves the songwriter as despondent as his audience – was justified. Yet ‘Church Underground’ still felt like his most rounded piece with his brazen, full bodied blues generating the perfect storm of enchanting vocals and jagged guitar.
Much like his punk ethic concerning today’s fast-food culture, he remains the identity of resilience. Costello the brave; Costello the worthy – a musician too cool to get old.
Words by Clive K Hammond