Thursday, April 13, 2006

Orchestral Elvis

Tonight I was witness to one of the most unique musical experiences in my concert going career. Elvis Costello(and Steve Nieve) used the Houston Symphony Orchestra as their pick up band in a evening of music comprised of a commissioned orchestral piece(Il Songo, The Dream) based on Shakespeare's "A Mid Summer Night's Dream", and concluded the evening with a collection of tunes from his vast and varied musical catalog.
Dressed in a penguin suit, Elvis introduced the symphonic piece, gave its background, and stepped off to let the orchestra do their thing for the first half hour. A very pleasant piece of swirling ear candy, but when you know Elvis is waiting in the wings to perform, you're bound to get a bit antsy for him to reappear no matter how thrilling the piece is.
At its conclusion, Elvis stepped back out with long time friend and bandmate Steve Nieve(also dressed in black, except for his blood red socks) and immediately went to work. He first performed a new number that all of us agreed at intermission was one of his most overtly political statements ever. Don't recall the name, as I was a bit distracted trying to get my digital recorder to start. I'll have to give it another listen once it's burned to disc. I did finally get it up and rolling for his second number, All This Useless Beauty, which was just a duet between he and Steve(WHEW!). He played one more number before taking a short break.
The second half was all Elvis, Steve, his bass player(on stand up, of course) and the orchestra backing him up on most of the songs. He created a thick musical stew with ingredients from his collaborations with Burt Bacharach, Charles Mingus, The Brodsky Quartet, Bill Frisell, as well as songs from his period with the Attractions and prolific solo career.
The back to back selection of She and God Give Me Strength was a sublime pairing to wrap up the pre encore slot. In between, he played a barn burning Veronica, a heavily orchestrated Watching The Detectives(with noir film flava added to wonderful effect), a heapin' helpin' from his "blue period" with Almost Blue & Flame Burns Blue, and a heartbreaking Allison.
More than once during the evening he would step back from the mic to let his powerful vocal chords do the work of carrying his sonic vibrations to the back of the house. But with his closing number, Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4, he stepped to the lip of the stage and projected the entire song sans amplification. The entire crowd(except for the hens directly behind us) were glued to every movement and vocal nuance during the course of the song. A breathtaking experience.
During the performance, Elvis was charming, funny, intense(prowling the lip of the stage like a caged cat), and downright brilliant. His voice was a thing of wonder, truly. Nary a shaky note or missed cue. He was spot on the entire night and his only moment of disappointment(a shrug of the shoulders) was during the closing number when the shy Houston audience refused to join him as he hummed the final notes to No.4, while the orchestra built an ever climbing crescendo behind him.
The most exciting thing of the evening, though, was knowing that my friend and I walked out of the venue with 2(count 'em TWO) digital recordings from the floor and boxes, that are going to be mixed to make a DVD-A in 5.1.
I take that back. The best part was sharing the evening with my soul sista, AJ.

Tomorrow I'm off to see Dylan in San Antonio!


Blogger supergirl said...


3:20 PM  

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