Review: Elvis Costello’s aim is true at Harrogate

Elvis Costello.

Elvis Costello.

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By Graham Chalmers

Elvis Costello, Harrogate International Centre.

The most intelligent man in post-Beatles and Bowie rock history starts the show in front of a giant fake old-fashioned TV screen and ends it more than two hours later inside the same stage prop belting out Oliver’s Army like a video made flesh.

In between, Elvis Costello is, by turns, charming and infuriating, honest and tricksy, down to earth and pretentious, self-indulgent and crowd-pleading, rubbish and brilliant.

Armed only with a piano, a phalanx of guitars and some very nice stage scenery including a video screen showing the occasional clip from his life story, the solo Costello spends the show battling, as ever, with his own personality.

Like a modern day Sinatra, he only seems to have two types of subject matter in one of the biggest back catalogues in pop – loathing and self-loathing.

Early in a typically eclectic set list, the bespectacled, behatted Costello opts for a run of bitter songs seemingly selected more on their obscurity than necessarily their quality.

Clever? Certainly. Enjoyable? For a while it depends on what your definition of fun is.

But eventually Costello loosens up and the hits start to flow, as do the personal anecdotes about his life and career which would be touching if his anecdotes weren’t sometimes delivered in a mock American accent.

Part British Bob Dylan, part oldfashioned music hall entertainer, at the age of 60 Costello still attacks everything with as much force and energy as he showed when he first came up with the likes of Pump It Up or Alison or Accidents Will Happen in the long gone days of punk in the late 1970s.

Despite not giving the knowledgable Harrogate crowd exactly what they want, they still call him back time after time for a lengthy series of encores lasting nearly 45 minutes.

He even finds time to throw in a bit of Buddy Holly and Al Jolson, this anti-pop pop star who simultaneously embraces and rejects everything.

But it’s a measure of Elvis Costello’s greatness that the series of rousing standing ovations he receives at the end of this remarkable show is entirely deserved.