Acoustic Elvis

Elvis Costello & Steve Nieve

Park West - Chicago

May 18, 1996

First Appeared in The Music Box, June 1996, Volume 3, #4

Written by John Metzger


Elvis Costello gave a week's notice for a rare performance in a small venue, the Park West in Chicago on May 18. It was just Elvis and his acoustic guitar paired up with Attractions keyboardist Steve Nieve on grand piano.

Costello took the stage and launched into a powerful, solo version of Just About Glad before embarking on Starting to Come to Me, the first of many songs from his latest release All This Useless Beauty. (In fact, he seamlessly squeeze the entire album into this magical performance.) He got the audience to sing along on the chorus to (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes adding a delightful twist to this classic tune.

Little Atoms, another song from the new album, was the first excursion into story telling and Costello's dry wit. He told a story of an interview he had in Germany with a rock critic who compared the main melody of Little Atoms to the German national anthem.

At this point, Steve Nieve joined Costello for most of the remainder of the show. You Bowed Down, a song that appeared on a Roger McGuinn's Back to Rio a few years ago, was superb. Costello's voice was strong throughout the show and floated through this song, hanging on Nieve's every key stroke. Countless times throughout the show, Nieve sounded like a classical pianist, adding a very rich dimension to many of the songs.

God's Comic was a meant for this type of concert and came across tremendously well. Costello took a break midway through the tune to demonstrate how Heart of Glass, I'm on Fire, and I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For would have sounded had Elvis Presley recorded them. Without skipping a beat, he plowed back into the conclusion of God's Comic, complete with the audience on backing vocals.

Costello was quite generous with encores, too, returning to the stage three times. The first brought a pair of new songs not appearing on All This Useless Beauty: Another Unwanted Number and Passionate Fight. The first encore ended with a version of My Funny Valentine. Costello quickly returned and plunged into an inspired version of Oliver's Army with Nieve providing a delicate keyboard arrangement over Costello's powerful rhythm guitar. Oliver's Army weaved its way through Unchained Melody and If You Could Read My Mind before fading off into the night. Alison also popped up in this second encore, much to the delight of the crowd. Even after two hours of belting out song after song, Costello's voice was still amazingly strong, and he this song from a rage of passion to peaceful, delicate moments. The audience went nuts, and Costello returned for a few more.

In his third and final encore, Costello plugged in his electric and burst into Shallow Grave as Nieve banged away on his piano in a style reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis. Next came the reggae-tinged Watching the Detectives. The show concluded with the final track from the new album: I Want to Vanish.

Costello was in fine form throughout the show and really put his heart into this rare intimate performance. There were so many songs left unperformed, but of those that were played, everything was solidly delivered.

All This Useless Beauty is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Copyright 1996 The Music Box