I can’t recall if in my brief writing career I ever reviewed a live music show, but I think I’d be the world’s worst music reviewer because I like to wait for a few days for the show to settle in on me before I really decide what it was like. Some are just enjoyable but fleeting, others are transcendant. This week’s Elvis Costello show at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall was transcendant.
If we learned nothing else, it was that the TSB Music Hall was designed and destined for whistling solos. Elvis treated us to no fewer than three of those in the evening, and the crazy effect of the delayed echo from the back of the hall was marvelous. It was also a hall designed for listening. He referred to the show, tongue in cheek, as the gospel show, but in fact there was something churchlike and reverent in listening to him in that hall. Because every sound can be heard, the faintest creak of a chair, the twisting of a candy wrapper, the audience sat in rapt silence throughout. Even the constant waving of iPhone screens was kept to a minimum. (The silence compared to a recent performance at Proctor’s where several patrons felt content to display their coughing prowess throughout the evening.) Every note could be heard. And Elvis took full advantage, moving from whispers to bombast, even singing and playing off-mike. When he played “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” no amplification, just singing from the stage, it felt like a show from a century ago.
Which, oddly, is what he does. He’s an old-style showman, something he started to present with his alter ego Napoleon Dynamite and the spinning songback way back when (which, for us, was in a brightly lit gymnasium at Oswego State on a cold winter night in 1987, the first time we got to see him. Nick Lowe was on the bill that night, too). What was then a smarmy caricature has become something genuine, and as he channels his entertainment lineage he really couldn’t be more sincere.
And then, there are the songs. Has anyone written a wider array of amazing songs, in a broader range of styles? Even when it’s not quite right, it’s interesting, and when it hits, it hits hard. But he didn’t choose anything that wasn’t quite right in this show. I was pleased to hear what I think are neglected gems like “Little Atoms” and “All This Useless Beauty,” and pleased that his use (one time) of the “REQUEST!” sign kept the audience shouting to a minimum. (People: seriously. You’re grownups. Shut the fuck up and listen to what the man came to play.)
We’ve only gotten to see Elvis a handful of times; in recent years he’s been doing bigger shows in bigger cities, and when he’s been here he’s been on someone else’s bill. So it was fantastic to see him in this incredible venue.
The full setlist, by the way, is here.