Elvis Costello is just too good of an all-around writer for his autobiography of last year, Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink, to be anything less than a good read, but it tends to get long-winded and skirt his most significant contribution: that incredible catalogue of songs. Costello’s “Detour” performance series was more like the ideal presentation of Unfaithful Music. Like his book, the chronology of his storytelling is scattered and the ghost of his father looms over it all. Unlike that book, there was also a wealth of wonderful audio and judicious use of video to make those tales breathe.
As a new concert film expertly directed by Joss Crowley (who varies the angles and composition to prevent the image from becoming static) reveals, Costello and his crew put a lot of thought into the presentation of “Detour”. Although he did a good deal of the show solo, it never becomes samey because of how he mixes up his guitar sounds, how he takes occasional detours to the piano, and how he makes full use of his elaborate stage set up (which initially seems as though it could be a mere yet massive distraction). And just when our narrator seems as though he might be getting lonesome, he invites Rebecca and Megan Lovell of the duo Larkin Poe on stage for friendly support. Megan’s ceaselessly inventive stand-up lap steel work draws all the colors from Costello’s vivid songs.
And those songs! We get such a wonderful career-spanning selection that ranges from still-welcome warhorses such as “Red Shoes”, “Watching the Detectives” (in which he makes brilliant use of looping effects), “Alison” (grunged up with gnarly guitar), and “Watch Your Step” (a showstopper of whisper-to-scream dynamics) to several delightful obscurities (“Ghost Train”! “Blame It on Cain”! “Pads, Paws, and Claws”!). When he goes a cappella to astoundingly dramatic effect on “Jimmy Standing in the Rain”, it is clear that we are sitting in the lap of a master showman. When the screen suddenly swings to the past for a snatch of Ross McManus’s crazed performance of “If I Had a Hammer”, it’s clear that master showmanship is in Elvis’s genes.
Eagle Vision supplements its gorgeous new blu-ray release of Detour Live at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall with four bonus tracks shot with (“Love Field”, “Brilliant Mistake”) and without (“Either Side of the Same Town”, “Ascension Day”) Larkin Poe.