For artists with long, multi-decade careers, it’s one thing to have an incredibly rich songwriting catalog to continually pull from, but it’s something completely different when you can tweak and reinvent those songs in interesting and imaginative ways over and over again. For Detour Live at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Elvis Costello once again shows his unique ability to do just that with his own vast treasure trove of songs.
Captured on his recent solo Detour Tour, Costello’s new DVD spotlights his ability to both rework a song and retell a tale. Costello kicked the show off with a laid back, acoustic take on "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" and kept the chilled out, strum-along vibe going for the first few songs, fully embodying the Nick Lowe-esque acoustic cool he has continually flirted with throughout his career. After a couple acoustic numbers, he switched to an overdriven hollow-body electric, a seemingly minor move that added a tasty aural oomph to the originally piano-led “Church Underground” from his last official solo release, 2010’s National Ransom.
Costello’s twisting and turning continued throughout the duration of the 23-song main set. He ran acoustic guitars through distortion pedals, turned his Sam & Dave soul cover of “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down” into a aching piano ballad, used a loop pedal to deftly accompany himself through a growling “Watching The Detectives,” and even employed the large mocked-up television screen behind him at different times to (a) jump inside himself for a tender singer-songwriter take on “Alison” (“The only way I can guarantee to be on television is to have my own”) and (b) play a vintage video clip of his dad performing “If I Had A Hammer,” eventually joining in to lead the crowd in the family sing-along.
It was during this technologically enhanced father-son moment that Costello first brought out his special guest for the evening, Larkin Poe (Rebecca and Megan Lovell). The rootsy sibling duo joined Costello for “Pads, Paws, and Claws,” “That’s Not The Part of Him You’re Leaving,” “Down on the Bottom,“ “Blame It On Cain,” “A Good Year for the Roses,” and a rollicking stomp-through of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” Combining sisterly harmonies, tasty mandolin, and slinky slide guitar, Larkin Poe added a nice rustic depth to Costello’s acoustic numbers.
Interspersed between all of the magical music moments, Costello spun yarns of quick stories and one-liners: tales of a taxicab tryst before “Accidents Will Happen,” homage paid to actress Gloria Grahame before “Church Underground,” woes of working as a computer operator before “Shipbuilding,” explaining the thrill of his 9-year-old self watching his dad share the bill of the 1963 Royal Variety Show with The Beatles before “Ghost Train,” and lovingly paying tribute to his Depression-era shipman-turned-musician grandfather before an emotional “Jimmie Standing in the Rain”/”Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”
In fact, this latter story-and-song moment makes the DVD worth the price of admission on it’s own. The fact that it’s surrounded by so many other memorable performances is just a testament to Costello’s multi-tentacled talents. Along with the main set, there’s also some impressive bonus tracks on the DVD as well, including “Love Field,” “Either Side of the Same Town,” “Brilliant Mistake,” and “Ascension Day.” Costello fans would do themselves well to pick up this incredible collection of the master in his one-man-show glory.