Reviews of the last UK tour undertaken by Elvis Costello back in 2018 were far from positive. The singer would later admit that he had returned to the stage far too soon after cancer treatment and that, from the very first performances he knew he was underperforming and the shows left a lot to be desired.
It was on the back of this that I had been reluctant to shell out what would have been considerable sums of money to get tickets for the 2020 tour, given the name of ‘Just Trust’, partly as a plea to forgive and forget and partly as the 1981 album Trust was going to feature prominently in the set.
The tour subsequently opened in Liverpool and there was an ecstatic 5-star review in The Guardian, with a number of other publications also heaping high praise on things. I sneaked a look at the set list, and noticing that it and the next few shows focussed highly on the older material, began to reconsider things but it was only at the 11th hour, when a work colleague passed on a voucher containing an offer for very cheap tickets, that I put the call into Rachel and we made arrangements to go.
I’ll cut to the chase. It was an amazing night. Maybe not quite up there fully with some of the shows in the early 80s in that the voice isn’t quite the powerful tool it once was, but in terms of a set list and the musical abilities on display, I’m struggling to think of the overall experience ever being bettered, which is no real surprise given that the keyboards of Steve Nieve and the drums of Pete Thomas were so often at the heart of everything. Huge praise also for the peerless Davey Faragher on bass, while it proved to be a genius idea to have the soulful and dynamic vocal talents of Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee added to the band. Oh, and the frontman offered a reminder that he is a fabulous punk guitarist, whether playing as lead or offering the notes as part of the rhythm.
The opening songs really were a step back in time – Strict Time, Clubland, Green Shirt, Accidents Will Happen and Watch Your Step were hammered out in breathless style. My only concern was that EC seemed to be struggling to hit some notes when he was not singing at full pelt, but the band’s playing was more than compensating, particularly Nieve who seemed, from our seats at the back of the auditorium to be jumping between at least three and possibly more sets of keyboards.
And then they launched into Tokyo Storm Warning, a song that has long been one my all-time favourites. I was anticipating some sort of edited version, but nope, it was actually extended from the album version with EC thrashing magnificently and note-perfect at his guitar throughout while the backing singers demonstrated just how much they were ready to bring to the night.
If that had proved to be the highlight of the night, then I would have gone home happy. In the end, it probably just scraped into the Top 10.
Musically and visually (as there was a clever and inventive ever-changing background throughout), Watching The Detectives will be my biding memory of the main set. It was a genuinely breath taking piece of musical theatre in which EC was front lit and the reminder of the band were in near darkness as a series of film noir posters flashed up high over everyone’s heads, all of which were on display for maybe five seconds at the most. It was one of those things that if you were watching on TV, you would pause and rewind to try and made sure you captured everything that was going on.
Other memorable moments included (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea, Pump It Up, Radio Radio, High Fidelity, Alison and Everyday I Write The Book, the latter extending to something like a seven-minute version with each musician/singer given their own opportunity to individually shine.
And then came the encore.
A haunting take on Shipbuilding in which EC sang part of it away from the microphone, and in doing so brought a few lumps to a few throats. And as the cheers got louder and louder, EC again strapped on his guitar and to huge acclaim, he played those distinctive and off-kilter notes which provide the musical introduction to I Want You.
As I mentioned earlier, I had sneaked a look at the setlists from the first four shows on this tour. Glasgow was the first time that I Want You had been aired. It was, as my North American friends often proclaim, awesome.
The show ended with the double-whammy of Oliver’s Army and (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding, with an anti-war backdrop that seamlessly led into a lovely tribute to EC’s grandparents and their participation in the Great War of 1914-18.
2 hours and 10 minutes after he first set foot on stage, it was all over. If there was the occasional hint of a missed note through what could very well be a throat infection, then what was happening across the rest of the stage made up for it…..besides, when your front man is 65 years old and has not long kicked cancer’s butt, a few allowances have to be made.
The only thing…..this was such a fabulous show that I’d be nervous about going along next time round in case it didn’t quite live up to this one. But I suppose, when it comes down to it, I should always just trust EC and his Imposters.