I was sharing a flight with a number of disgruntled USC football fans, still in shock over their team's loss to Stanford the night before, when this show went on sale. Fortunately, friends took care of the hard work of getting tickets (to the second show, of course) and waiting in line. Tonight, I was more than happy to reap the rewards.
Elvis Costello and Clover, Great American Music Hall, November 8, 2007: Ordinarily, I'd use this space to gloat about Elvis Costello's affinity for the Bay Area, but I'll put my pettiness aside to simply be thankful that Elvis has established roots deep enough to grace us with this gig to help out a friend, 30 years in coming.
The friend was Austin De Lone, who I had seen play with Elvis at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival last year, and the impetus was his son Richard, who suffers from Prader-Willi syndrome. The glue that held it all together was their long friendship. The pleasure, meanwhile, remained all ours.
In addition to learning more about Prader-Willi Syndrome, this show also schooled me on Clover, the band that backed Elvis all those years ago. I admit it--I had no idea that Elvis played with anyone in any significant measure before the Attractions or that the band was from the Bay Area or that they were responsible, in part, for forcing Huey Lewis and the News upon us. But as a music nerd, I'm glad to finally stumble upon that nugget of rock history, and I'm sure I'll make an obscure reference to it in the weeks and years to come.
I don't know who came up with the idea to put on concerts of albums in their entirety, but bless 'em for it, 'cos it makes all of us High Fidelity types weep into our limited-edition gatefold colored vinyl. The truth, once again, is that I'm not even a huge fan of My Aim Is True (This Year's Model, however, is another story), but you don't have to be a die-hard to be familiar with the truly classic tracks from the album. The band, understandably, turned them out exactly in order as on the record, and Elvis even remarked at one point that we were flipping over the album--an expression not lost on this older audience.
In fact, Elvis wasn't just engaging tonight--he was downright loquacious (just the way I like 'em)! I could share just his quotes with you all night, but I'd likely misquote them severely. He partly excused it by pointing out that the album itself is only 35 minutes long and he had to justify the ticket price somehow, but I don't think anyone was complaining, especially when he shared so many stories centered around My Aim Is True, from writing it to recording it to playing it on the road. I was especially amused by the numerous mentions of Nick Lowe; it's clear that the two are still good friends, and Elvis commented that these shows were supposed to take place last month, around the time of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, which Nick played. The deal breaker turned out to be Bob Dylan, who asked Elvis to open a number of shows. Small mercies--that weekend was already far too busy, so I'm glad I didn't have to miss another great show.
Ah right, the music. As mentioned earlier, we were in for fairly straightforward renditions of the old songs, some of which (I'm told) hadn't been played--well, since 1977. For, say, "Alison," it was sort of refreshing to hear it at its most basic, after all these permutations through the years (I could hear the traces of "Tracks of My Tears" over the bridge). Of course, "Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes" got a huge reception as well, but so did the lesser-known tracks "Less than Zero" and "Mystery Dance."
Elvis vowed to not do any song that predated 1977, the album's release year, so he reached into his repertoire for a number of rarities that I, frankly, didn't know. You didn't need prior knowledge, however, to enjoy the tunes. He downplayed a lot of them by explaining that they offered less of an insight into his evolution as a songwriter as they better revealed who he was trying to ape. The songs easily demonstrated, nonetheless, the influence that American country and folk artists held over him in the early years, before he was swept under the "punk" label.
Despite all the great music, the highlight of my night came when Elvis spoke from his heart and explained how he got involved in this benefit. As he heaped praise upon Austin and Lesley de Lone, you could see Austin standing offstage, the tears in his eyes clearly visible. Later, Austin gave as good as he got and duly credited Elvis for the evening's success.
There was some talk about Bonnie Raitt's early involvement with the band and how she refused to join them onstage for the show. No hard feelings, though--we sang "Happy Birthday" to her and Elvis's longtime manager. After two or three encores, in which Elvis played solo as well as with Austin, the whole roster (Elvis, Pete Thomas, Clover, Austin, and Bill Kirchen) reassembled for "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding," which not only closed out the U.S. issue of My Aim Is True but this night as well. Elvis and Austin mentioned taking this show to other cities to raise funds and awareness for Prader-Willi Syndrome and the Richard de Lone Special Housing Project. I hope they make good on that idea because a lot more people need to see this show.
» now I try to be amused