The DVD, “Elvis Costello Detour: Live at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall Featuring Larkin Poe,” is best described as a musical documentary.
The singer/songwriter mixes stories about his life, family and career while playing both famous and lesser-known tracks from his extensive catalog, covering more than 40 years.
During the first phase of his career, he was bewildering and angry.
In phase two, he began to mellow a bit after the public finally caught on to his finely layered music. He wrote some killer tracks with some dude named McCartney, leading critics to label him one of rock’s best songsmiths.
In his latest incarnation, Costello is reflective about his life and career. Last year’s terrific biography, “Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink,” and a similarly titled double disc, surveyed his forty-year catalog.
He followed that with his recent Detour tour, which yielded his “Live In Liverpool” DVD. It’s probably the most insightful look into his creative genius ever produced, told by the artist himself.
On the DVD, Costello’s in a casual, reflective mood. He tells behind-the-scenes stories buttressed with his hits and misses. His guitar and piano provide most of the accompaniment.
An oversized TV screen flickers in the background, showing lyrics, quotes and career photos. It’s a neat, simple trick that suitably frames the show.
To close the show, he appears inside that TV, which functions as a stage It works amazingly well. Clearly, Costello learned the intimacies of TV and video work from his three seasons, working on Spectacle, with Elton John.
The show reminds me very much of what Monkee Micky Dolenz did last year. His Disc, called “A Little Bit Broadway; A Little Bit Rock & Roll,” delicately mixed his Broadway hits his hit Monkees tunes. It worked very, very well.
Costello was always a dynamic performer; first as the guitarist in his bands, the Attractions and later the Imposters. Here, in a mostly unplugged showcase, you begin to realize just how impressive Costello is on deep tracks like “Watch Your Step.”
It’s also exciting to hear him dig deep and extricate lesser known gems such as “Ship Building” and “When I Was Cruel No. 2.” They add an even greater dimension to this basic style.
His acoustic version of “Watching the Detectives” is especially crisp. He also nails a great version of a true-Costello chestnut, “Ghost Train.”
Sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell of Larkin Poe join during the second half of the show. Their work is impressive on “Pads, Paws and Claws,” and a stunning version of Elvis’ own “Peace, Love and Understanding” – always a favorite of mine.
Costello fans will adore this (as did I) But there is little doubt many of these songs sound better and more exciting with a full band. Elvis’ playing has a ruddy, basic sound that doesn’t do many of the songs justice during the performance’s first half.
That makes the DVD an interesting but far from essential addition to his extensive resume, although it’s a must for those who have followed Costello’s musical peaks and valleys since 1977.
Costello’s always been like a fine wine; getting better and better with age. His songs sound better than ever.
Names in the News
Jerry Lembo, Van Dean, Micky Dolenz, Alexa Green, Mark Bego, Steve Leeds, Robert Miller, Eppy, Jacqueline Boyd, Mark Alpert, Randy Alexander, Bobby Rydell, Tom & Lisa Cuddy, Darren Paltrowitz, Brad Balfour, Debbie Caponetta, Mark Strickland, Joel Denver, Scott Shannon, Chip.