For Three Hours At The Majestic Last Night, Elvis Costello Was Just Perfect.
There’s a weird little Sex Pistols interview record, a messy excretion of Malcolm McLaren’s dubious genius, called Some Product: Carri on Sex Pistols. It, of course, includes the infamous Bill Grundy interview that help catapult the Pistols to new levels of infamy. But it also includes a collage of other interviews with sundry late-’70s U.S. and U.K. television and radio people. Nestled among the drunken cockney charm and the expletives and the blue snot and the smack-talk about other not-yet-legendary bands was my introduction to Elvis Costello.
In my flawed memory, one of the Pistols’ voices that I’m sure I’m supposed to recognize but don’t said: “Elvis…Elvis Cos-quello wears glasses with no actual glass in ‘em. ‘E’s a wanker.”
I was definitely interested in this Elvis chap — and was highly rewarded when I looked into him for myself.
Who knows if he’s a wanker, or if that’s even a bad thing these days. Since he’s 62 years old, it’s a good bet Elvis’ glasses really do have glass in ‘em now. I’m almost positive they do, because for the first song of Elvis’s nearly-three-hour set last night at the Majestic, all we could see of his face were two tiny white reflections floating roughly where his glasses would be if you could see his face — which I couldn’t, not because my eyes are just as old and bad as most of the Costello fans there last night, but because he was silhouetted in front of a gigantic vintage TV set on which was projected and epic biographical home-movie/slide-show of Mr. McManus’ life. They used the Ken Burns effect and everything.
The reflections in the glass were likely to be backlit (think iPad or bigger) LCD screens that contained the lyrics and or set-list for what felt like about 40 songs, and I mean that in a good way. And of course his glasses were tinted, which not only looks cool (sorry, it almost always just does) but also conveniently hides the fact that the wearer is looking at the list(s), or his guitar-neck, or nothing at all. That way, everyone in the audience can imagine they’re making a soulful eye-to-eye connection with the performer. Every musician knows this, and I’ll wager that most of us would gladly wear them when we’re performing. Sometimes shades help with annoyingly bright lights, too.
What? You guys didn’t know that most major artists (and I’m sure an increasing number of smaller ones) use screens to follow the ball that’s bouncing across their own songs? Of course they do. They’ve written a gazillion songs with a fucktillion of words, and you’re paid a lot of money to see them sing the damn things correctly. So they put an LCD screen in a box that looks almost exactly like the wedgie floor monitor speaker you’re already used to seeing on the stage. Meanwhile, they’re actually listening to themselves on $1,000-plus custom ear-buds. Everyone’s happy. Of all the sausage that gets made on a tour, this tiny bit of artifice should probably bother us least.
Anyhow, Elvis was great. His glasses were real. The set and pictures were amazing. He only wore a signature hat for a few songs, and thankfully few people in the audience were sporting those same hats that made Elvis acolytes so painfully obvious in college a very long time ago. Now the youngsters are aping other people’s hats to similar effect.
There were a couple of songs he just plain stepped away from the mic and played for-real acoustically to a silent, rapt audience. It really emphasizes the beauty and intimacy of a space like the Majestic when a performer does that, and puts in embarrassingly stark relief how much we’ve conceded to loud-for-loudness’ sake in our every-day listening habits. Not that there wasn’t plenty of rock ’n’ roll distortion — Elvis knows that even an acoustic guitar pickup will distort when you really dig into it, and he managed to craft some bonafide feedback-y sonic chaos on a big Gretsch with just a volume knob and an echo pedal.
Elvis didn’t hit every note, though. Anyone with a few notches under their belt knows how hard this is to do as you get past 40, much less 60, so it’s totally forgivable and arguably has always been part of the charm of his character, the same way it might be for Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen. But I have no doubt he can hit it when it counts.
Rebecca and Megan Lovell, the sisters that comprise badass bluesy opening duo Larkin Poe, accompanied Elvis on mandolin and lap-steel for most of the last third of his set, and when it came time to harmonizing, Elvis was right there where we wanted him.
Elvis proves it’s possible to not hit every note and still be pitch-perfect.