Elvis Costello decided the theme for his deliciously rough-cut performance last night at the Louisville Palace would be “life in exile.”
“That means we can play this anywhere,” said the veteran songsmith.
Well, technically, yes. But if anything represented an exile, it was Costello’s self-imposed separation from onstage collaborators. A band man since his breakthrough days with The Attractions, Costello is now in the midst of a rare solo tour. Armed with five guitars, a keyboard and 35 or so years’ worth of champion songs (the astonishing set list, in fact, pulled material from 17 different albums), Costello took to the Palace stage alone as an artist in his own exile. That was the case, however, until a couple of Louisville pals helped out at encore time.
Solo performance settings for contemporary singer-songwriters can’t help but summon a folk connotation. Certainly there were elements of that last night, especially when Costello took some of his chestnut post-punk tunes and toyed with their pace (Watch Your Step), their central melody (Veronica) and even their very intent in unvarnished acoustic deliveries. The latter came into play when an encore of Radio Radio was slowed into a quiet affirmation that Costello confessed had little to do with literal airwaves, but “the radio inside you, broadcasting out.”
But there were several solo electric segments, as well, that upheld Costello’s rock ‘n’ roll heritage. The popular Watching the Detectives employed loop-like effects to establish a dub style groove. The guitar solo Costello hammered out on top of it was hardly full of masterful chops. Instead, blunt, raw instinct was implemented, which rekindled the some of the dark glory the song was born with. Ditto for the jagged lyrical edge and noisy intuition summoned late in the program for the new and unrecorded The Last Year of My Youth.
The solo setting became a hootenanny of sorts when Jim James (who is collaborating with Costello and others this year on Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes, a project generating newly composed music for unpublished Bob Dylan lyrics) and accordionist/musical saw stylist Brigid Kaelin joined Costello for a set of encore covers that included Dylan’s You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, the pop-soul classic Bring It On Home and an especially lovely and longing version of Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground gem Femme Fatale.
Costello got the last word in, though, by ending the show with a solo electric reading of (What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding that sounded coarse, vital and eerily topical.