Gig review by Zyllah Moranne-Brown with photography by Ken Harrison

Tonight’s gig is all about this particular legendary figure. From when you walk into the auditorium until you leave. What can you say about a man who has had more classic hits than most of us have had hot dinners, with over 60 singles, thirty-odd albums in a career spanning well over thirty years.  And that’s before you event mention his lyrical prowess! Welcome to the delectable Symphony HallElvis Costello.

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Tonight this is his ‘Detour’ – his second date of a 21 date tour of these isles. And it’s Costello, stripped back. None of the over-the-top vaudeville of his Revolver tour – just the man himself. The set is reasonably basic but set in the middle a large TV screen showing Costello in all his video hits.

And the Costello brethren is here tonight – support comes from his brother – Ronan MacManus with mate in tow as the Brand New Zeros. First track ‘Nothing I Can Do’ MacManus and his side kick are there with acoustic guitars – and my life – he SOUNDS so like his older bro. I would say mini Costello – but the pair of them are a tad old for that. The love song – ‘Bullet To Your Heart’ basically about slaughtering the one you love in multiple ways, then suffering the pain they inflict on you, then the same slaughtering they’d done to you, being done to them – to coin a Lydon tune – this is not a love song. Clearly younger MacManus has used the subject of spurned love for his group’s soon to be released album – but still with the detailed perspective on life his brother so gainly absorbs into lyrics.

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So, at 8.45pm, after an interval where the tele shows more Costello hits, the man himself takes to the stage – dapper in slick cut blue suit and white boater hat. He’s gonna play all his hits – this could be a long show – Costello is renowned for long sets. The sign at the side of the stage is lit up – ‘On Air” – indeed as he starts off his all acoustic set with ‘(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes.’

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“How you all doing? Thank for welcoming my brother Ronan…” as he goes on a mission with a series of tracks including ‘Girls Talk’ – fast in pace, straight into ‘Watch Your Step.’ This, is indeed, the second night of his tour – he has a choice from over 400 (!) songs to play. Chatty and engaging and white, he tell us he likes to be inspired by the place he’s playing, make a story of his set. Birmingham the city of love (?), maybe songs of faith and fidelity. He quips it would be s short set as he takes us into ‘Accidents Will Happen.’ I’m not to sure what this song says about the city – but hey, it’s a classic and we all repeat back the “I know” bit….

Apparently the way to get around stage-fright is to imagine the audience naked. Costello imagines we’re all choristers. Apparently. As he takes us until his ‘simplified’ version of ‘Ascension Day’ and his film noir track “Church Underground’ – possibly his best delivery of the night so far.

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After ’45’, he put his guitar aside and his on the piano – with a far more melancholy version of  an already melancholy ‘Shipbuilding’ – a track that’s over thirty years old. And then to an acknowledgement of the Midlands – Roy Wood is emblazoned on the TV screen, and Costello gives us a great take of half of The Move’s ‘Blackberry Way’ – and we be singing. “Isn’t it a beautiful tune…” he acknowledges.

Rising from his perch at the piano he announces the special guest tonight is “Me!” and he takes a seat, guitar in hand. Tells us a tale of his family history – his father was was Ross McManus, who performed with Joe Loss and had hits in his own right (and yes you must have heard the R.Whites ‘Secret Lemonade Drinker’ advert). His dad was on the Royal Variety of Show in ’63. Line up included a lesser known band – The Beatles. “So full of talented people – not the XFactor!” Costello quips. And when he’s away from home he plays this for his family: ‘Walkin’ My Baby Back Home.’ The next sing “he started when he was 17 and finished it tonight…” ‘Ghost Train.’ Before still seated, it’s ‘She.’

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Big cheers, he back with guitar this time a deconstructed and rather rocked out rendition of ‘Watching the Detectives.’ Next up a dedication to Nick Lowe and “When I Write the Book / Everyday I Write the Book.”

This gig could hold the work record for encores, but we’ll go with ‘interludes.’ Following the first, he’s back on stage with bro in tow and ‘What A Good Year For The Roses.’ To hear how close vocally brother Ronan is, is really quite striking; before they crack on with ‘Oliver’s Army.’

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Interlude. He’s on in his own TV – as he stands literally inside his large tellybox – for a deconstructed version of ‘Alison’, before ‘Pump It Up.’ Interlude. And then he’s back. On the piano and get’s us singing “We aint got a barrel of moooooney, maybe we’re ragged and funny, But we’ll travel along, singing a song, siiiiiddee by side.” It has a melancholy dark feel – but goes down well. Before indeed – another deconstructed track – ‘I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down.’ A song about his grandfather, who he loves to see as a 20’s New York gangster “ Jimmie Standing in the Rain.’ Huge cheers and standing ovation.

Interlude! With a guitar called vagabond a song about a young woman corrupted by an evil man (not that he’d know anything about that!) – ‘Mr. Feathers’ which morphs into ‘I Want You.’ Once again deconstructed as Costello goes rock god. Interlude! Costello, his bro and his mate take to the stage and here we go on the final track: ‘(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.’

Costello is out celebrating his hits, the old and the new, stripped back and bare and done his way. In ways, this was a set was for the fans, and to celebrate a massive back catalogue that is literally full of surprises. A night to absorb rather than party – but truly impressive – Costello’s friendly and quirky and entertaining anecdotes, stripped bare and of course taking in his true lyrical prowess that is very much Costello’s own. To give a set list would be wrong – every night is different, the potential song list way too long, and there’s treats that pop up when you least expect it! So as per the way the entire night runs, I’ll leave it a surprise. Cos we did indeed take in the experience. Singing along. Side by side.

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