Elvis Costello @ Gramercy Theatre, New York, US, 13th February, 2023

Feb 21, 2023
By Matthew Berlyant
Photography by Wilma Wilkie
Web Exclusive

Back in September of last year, Elvis Costello announced a ten-night residency at the Gramercy Theatre in New York. To whet the appetites of eager fans and likely to stimulate early ticket sales (though he likely didn’t need to given the chance to see an artist of Costello’s stature in a small place like the Gramercy is enticing enough for many fans), ten songs that were to be played each night of the run were announced in advance, with fans wondering if each contained a theme (more on that later) and excited to hear rarely-played deep album cuts, covers, rarities, B-sides and other assorted material live in concert alongside the classics. On this note, the songs announced in advance were as follows:

Monday, February 13th – Elvis Costello Solo – Night Four

1. 45

2. Stella Hurt

3. Black & White World

4. Ghost Train

5. Church Underground

6. God’s Comic

7. Suit of Lights

8. Jimmie Standing in the Rain

9. Dr. Watson, I Presume

10. I Want to Vanish

And At Least Ten More

While this writer didn’t guess the theme ahead of time, that didn’t matter as he opened with “45” (also the opening track on 2002’s excellent and now overlooked When I Was Cruel) and proceeded to play the other nine songs in the main set, just as advertised. Hearing the arrangement of “Black and White World” that was only found on the 1980 rarities/B-sides album Taking Liberties was a highlight, as was hearing the rarely-played “Ghost Train” from the same period, though it goes back even further to his days with Rusty in the early seventies and “Maureen and Sam.” “Suit of Lights” (from 1986’s King of America, an album represented heavily during this ten-night run) and “God’s Comic” (from 1989’s Spike) were highlights as well, the former tale of Costello defending his late father Ross MacManus after witnessing him play to a disinterested audience feeling especially powerful on this evening. He introduced “I Want to Vanish” (from 1996’s All This Useless Beauty) as his mother’s least favourite song of his (understandable given the lyrics).

The real surprises, however, came after he played the now concert staple “Jimmie Standing in the Rain” (another of the ten songs advertised) with a snippet of the Great Depression-era classic “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” After a short break, pianist Rob Mathes came out along with a full Broadway chorus to perform songs from Costello’s long-gestating musical A Face in the Crowd. While he has performed most of these songs live in concert for years going back to their debuts in 2016, this was the first time he performed a full mini-set of songs from the musical and in such a fashion. It was an off Broadway preview of an almost mythical show that, with any luck considering the quality of the music involved, will eventually see a theatrical run. The highlights of this special set were many, including Larkin Poe’s Rebecca Lovell (who has collaborated with Costello in the past and has a voice that could stop a truck) on lead vocals for “Burn the Paper Down to Ash,” The Ajax Sisters (the quartet of Nicki Richards, Briana Carlson-Goodman, Ryah Nixon & Marinda Anderson) singing the previously unperformed “He Makes My Water Boil,” and the finale, the title track sung by both Costello and the stunning Antwayn Hopper, a Broadway star in the making given this powerhouse vocal performance.

All in all, with a merch display downstairs that rivalled almost any other artists and a congregation of several hundred of Costello’s most dedicated fans in attendance all mingling with one another and enraptured by the content, this felt more like a clubhouse for fellow acolytes led by the man himself treating us to a very special evening than the staid atmosphere seated shows can sometimes provide. I can’t wait to do it again and if you have a chance to go, do not miss this very special residency!

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