"Forget Iraq ~ Rebuild New Orleans" - written on the back of Elvis Costello's guitarLast night the Elvis Costello show rolled through our clotted metropolis of Hong Kong and put on a spectacle worthy of the ages. Throughout his over two-hour solo performance, Elvis finessed, lathered, charmed and slayed with the ferocity and precision of a matador in the ring. The stage was literally "in the round" with the crowd surrounding Elvis and prompting him at times to stroll the periphery, arm raised in mock self-aggrandisement like Mussolini at Rome's Palazzo Venezia. The only thing missing were chants of "Elvis Is King!"
With a wink to China's surveillance state, he opened with "Green Shirt" from 1979's Armed Forces:
There's a smart young woman on a light blue screenFrom there he dipped deeply into his rich catalogue, stretching from his first-ever recording - "Radio Sweetheart" - to the ragtime-inspired, "A Slow Drag With Josephine" off his most recent, the excellent, National Ransom. Highlights included a genuinely acoustic rendition of "Jimmie Standing in the Rain," done without electricity when he stepped away from the mic and unplugged his guitar; a mash-up of "New Amsterdam" and the Beatles' "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away"; a smoldering "Almost Blue," sung again unplugged as he strolled around the stage; a truly moving version of "Shipbuilding; and "Oliver's Army" with the shout out for us, "Hong Kong is up for grabs!"
Who comes into my house every night
And she takes all the red, yellow, orange and green
And she turns them into black and white
There were times when a full band would have added more variety and nuance, specifically backing vocals on "Everyday I Write The Book" and the bass line for "Pump It Up." At one point during "Watching The Detectives" his guitar loops descended into a cacophony of ill-placed intentions as he appeared to struggle with trying to be a one-man karaoke machine. But these are minor quibbles for an artist, who at 56, can still dance about architecture with tragic hipsters half his age.
Here's a rough setlist:
Either Side of the Same Town
Bullets for the New Born King
New Amsterdam/You've Got to Hide Your Love Away (Beatles cover)
Jimmie Standing in the Rain
Everyday I Write the Book (a nod to Ron Sexsmith's version)
A Slow Drag with Josephine
Watching the Detectives
Good Year for the Roses
Radio Sweetheart/Jackie Wilson Said (Van Morrison cover)
Alison/Somewhere Over the Rainbow/The Wind Cries Mary (Jimi Hendrix cover)
(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?
All or Nothing At All
(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes
National Ransom No. 2
My Three Sons
Pump It Up