Live: Elvis Costello Invades The New York Public Library


Elvis Costello
New York Public Library
Tuesday, November 2

Better Than: Following election results, that’s for goddamn sure.

One corny joke (“I hope you’ve brought back all your overdue books”), two old songs (“Blame It on Cain” and the repossessed r&b hit “Leave My Kitten Alone”), and a whole mess of onstage dudes (the Sugarcanes + Pete Thomas on drums) on accordion, upright bass, mandolin, and so forth, the better to help Elvis Costello showcase his latest full-length Americana diversion here in, yes, the Celeste Bartos Forum in the New York Public Library. Surprised there were so few old ones, surprised there were so few corny jokes. Call it a wash.

We have gathered at the behest of the Live at the Artists Den cabal for an eventually-to-be-televised fete celebrating the release of National Ransom, another one of Costello’s T Bone Burnett-helmed bluegrass/folk/etc. deals. “Here’s a little rock ‘n’ roll tune, or at least rock ‘n’ roll as we imagined it to be in 1921,” goes his introduction to “A Slow Drag With Josephine,” getting at the aesthetic well enough. (Great whistling solo on that one.) It’s all pretty sleepy on record, but he’s still a sparkplug live, goofy and vivacious and surprisingly fiery — “One Bell Ringing” is a stormy and dramatic torch song, slithering double bass and accordion keeping their distance as Costello ends the tune with searing, near-abstract electric-guitar thrashing.

“Blame It on Cain” (hailing all the way back to My Aim Is True) works great in this folk-with-firepower setup, the lyrics uncomfortably appropriate tonight (“It’s nobody’s fault/But we need somebody to burn”), and Costello certainly sings the hell out of “Leave My Kitten Alone,” but otherwise it’s all New Stuff — the ribald “Sulphur to Sugarcane,” from his last T Bone/Americana-overload record, doesn’t count. It’s way better if he’s in the room with you to sell it, working the crowd with his trademark blitheness. “I have no fucking idea what you just said,” he politely informs a woman who yells something at him during one of his rambling between-song interludes. “You can share it with us later on Twitter.” (He cracks himself up with this, as well he should.) He is rewarded with multiple standing ovations, and after two callbacks he rewards us in turn with the Ransom weeper “All These Strangers.” “I never will go back again/Go back into the past,” he croons, and for the most part he doesn’t, but tonight we forgive him. A guy who can rhyme “Ypslilanti” with “panties” deserves our respect, after all.

Critical Bias: I suppose tonight’s not the night for “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.”

Overheard: “Rand Paul won Kentucky, if you care.”

Random Notebook Dump: Pretty sure that was Tom Colicchio.

Set List

Bullets for the New-Born King
I Lost You
Blame It On Cain
Dr. Watson, I Presume
Poor Borrowed Dress
A Condemned Man
One Bell Ringing
Slow Drag With Josephine
Jimmie Standing in the Rain
The Spell That You Cast
That’s Not the Part of Him You’re Leaving
National Ransom

Stations of the Cross
Sulphur to Sugarcane

(encore II)
Leave My Kitten Alone
All These Strangers

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