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October 19, 1999

Roots, Rock, Reggae

ELVIS COSTELLO: An Amazing Performance in New Orleans

The October 4th performance by Elvis Costello at the House of Blues in New Orleans proved to be the hottest ticket in town, as the show was a complete sellout -- not too bad for a Monday night. Accompanied by his Attractions bandmate Steve Nieve on piano, Mr. Costello sang and played guitar for two and a half hours to a most enthusiastic crowd, who were obviously taking advantage of the opportunity to see this musical legend live in a small venue. He seemed to enjoy the show as much as the crowd, and promised to return, citing his last performance in a New Orleans bar twenty years ago to have been almost underwater due to a rainstorm.

Any Costello fan would tell you the setlist could not have been better. Elvis’s most recent recording, a collaboration with songwriter Burt Bacharach called “Painted from Memory” was featured, but not heavily. He performed a handful of song from it, but mixed them with classic songs from almost every other album he has made in his long, experimental career. Standouts included “Radio Sweetheart” in which the audience provided background vocals, “Inch by Inch” which became a medley with the song “Fever,” but the highlight of the show had to be “I Want You” from 1986’s “Blood and Chocolate.” Elvis gave an incredibly honest and emotional performance of this song, which reduced the audience to complete silence, or possibly just awe. We were speechless at the man’s raw artistic ability, so refreshing in the day of empty music and copycat bands. The show consisted of a twenty-song first set, followed by four encores which included songs like “Shallow Grave,” “Veronica,” “Watching the Detectives,” and “God’s Comic.” He concluded the show with a special performance of “Couldn’t Call It Unexpected” which he sang directly to the crowd with the sound system turned off. Once again, the audience silently listened to just his voice in a pure, unamplified form.

As if the concert itself was not mind-blowing enough, Costello fans had the chance to meet the man and shake his hand outside afterwards. His limo was parked in front of the artist entrance, and a small crowd gathered around. Rather than dashing off to their hotel, Elvis and Steve Nieve spent about half an hour talking with fans and signing autographs for everyone who wanted one. We were struck by the man’s approachability. Not only is he one of the most gifted musicians of his age, he may be one of the most genuine. Thanks to Mr. Costello for a memorable evening, and please don’t wait twenty more years for the next great show.

-- Chuck & Karen Cox

The Harbinger