This is my 3rd blog post of Elvis Costello gig memories, you can read part 1 right here and part 2 here.
Supporting Bob Dylan, Brixton Academy, London, 31st March 1995
Don’t think it was well publicised that Elvis was going to be the support act here but a mate who worked at the venue tipped me off about it. Just like most support acts, most of the crowd weren’t that interested and were just talking which is number 1 on the list of the 3 worst things you can do at a gig.
- filming on your tiny phone
- being taller than me
Despite all the talking, I really enjoyed this gig. I loved hearing a mix of new songs (from All This Useless Beauty) and a few older favourites.
I was standing downstairs near the front for Elvis but when Dylan came on, I decided to get a seat on the balcony upstairs. At the end of Dylan’s set, Elvis came back on with Chrissie Hynde and Carole King to sing “I Shall Be Released.” Can’t find any footage of that but here’s a clip from the night before.
A lot’s been said over the years about the pros and cons of Bob Dylan live but I’ve got to say at these Brixton shows, he played a strong setlist and was in pretty good voice. Having said that, I’ve seen him 2 more times since and both times were rubbish!
Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 17th May 1995
Elvis’ second album of covers, Kojak Variety, was released on this day so this show was being broadcast live on radio in the USA to promote the album. Consequently, ticket prices were low and Elvis just played the album straight through. Well, not quite, he played a solo version of Girl’s Talk at the start and encored with Alison & Pump It Up but apart from that it was just the new album. I got in for nothing thanks to the aforementioned girlfriend that worked in the box office but my mate Pompey Mike came with me to this gig and left feeling pretty shortchanged and vowing not to bother spending his money on Elvis gigs anymore! The Attractions were joined by 2 guitar legends, Marc Ribot and James Burton but even so I’ve got to admit it was a bit dull.
Shepherds Bush Empire, London, July 1996
Once again, Elvis played 4 consecutive Fridays at my local venue and these shows were even better than the “residency” there in 1994 (see part 2)
I think I went to all 4 gigs, not sure though, memory’s a bit hazy. But I definitely remember that the last gig was the best. There was a fantastic support slot from Ron Sexsmith and just look at that setlist! This was the first time I’d heard one of my all-time favourites “Human Hands” played live. (It’s also Harry Enfield’s favourite Costello song by the way)
A big highlight of each show was when Bruce and Pete Thomas went off to leave Elvis to play a few songs with just Steve Nieve (more of that to come at the next gig…)
Royal Albert Hall, London, 15th April 1999
I was gutted to miss the the gig Elvis and Burt Bacharach did together in October 1998 but I was out of the country at the time.
The following year I was back at the Albert Hall (but with a decent seat this time) to see Elvis and Steve play an absolute blinder. Plenty of the Bacharach songs got an airing and in the last song (Couldn’t Call It Unexpected), Elvis did that old Tony Bennett trick of singing with no mike. Loved that trick then and still love it when he does it now. Here’s a 2003 version.
Meltdown Festival, Royal Festival Hall, London, 26th June 2001
In 2001, Robert Wyatt was curating the “Meltdown Festival” on London’s South Bank which Elvis himself had curated a few years before. I bought tickets and went along not really knowing what to expect. There’d been no new album since “Painted From Memory” 3 years earlier but he’d had a big hand in making an album called “For the Stars” with the opera singer Anne Sofie von Otter and I’d also heard a bootleg of a new song that I really liked called “Alibi Factory”. As you can see from the ticket, the gig had been billed as “Elvis Costello & Steve Nieve” but it didn’t really pan out like that.
The show opened with some inspired poetry and songs from the great genius Ivor Cutler and his trusty harmonium. We miss you Ivor!
Most of the gig was just Elvis solo, sometimes with his beatboxing drum machine. He played a few new ones, including that “Alibi Factory” one. He also played some songs he doesn’t play live very much (The Great Unknown, My Dark Life) so it was a bit of a treat for geeky trainspotter fans like myself. I remember that Steve Nieve would come on for a couple of songs and then disappear for a bit before coming back on again. The same applied to the Brodsky Quartet who did a wonderful version of “Pills and Soap” as well as a few Juliet Letters songs. Then in the encores he got the full band on. It was great to see Pete Thomas again (greatest drummer in the world anyone?)
But wait a minute, who’s that playing bass? That ain’t Bruce! It’s not Nick Lowe either! These days Davey Farragher is a familiar and much-loved face to Costellophiles but at the time nobody knew who he was. We didn’t know it then but this was the first ever appearance of The Imposters. History in the making!
All in all, the gig was a bit disjointed with so many people going on and off. Still really enjoyable for Elvis followers like me but probably a bit confusing if you’d just come along to see him play “the hits”
With hindsight, I can see that Elvis himself was in a bit of a transition period at this time, moving from the orchestras and collaborations back towards experimentation with drum machines and having a band behind him again. All of that came to fruition very well on the “When I Was Cruel” album and tour which you can read about in the next part of my Elvis gig memories (coming soon!)
- Live Review: Elvis Costello, Liverpool Philharmonic 10th June 2013 (trustthewizards.com)
- Elvis Costello gig memories – Part 2: 1992 to 1994 (trustthewizards.com)
- Elvis Costello gig memories – Part 1: 1989 to 1991 (trustthewizards.com)
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