Sunday 26 January 2020

Reviews: Elvis Costello Vicar Street, Dublin

John Meagher and Ed Power

SINCE bursting on to the punk-rock scene in 1977, Elvis Costello has flitted from genre to genre with wildly varying results.

Of late, the former Declan McManus has pursued an Americana sound and his latest album, the Grammy-nominated 'Secret, Profane & Sugarcane', takes in bluegrass and vintage folk.

That album was made with his latest backing band, the Sugarcanes, and this six-piece, whose membership includes US country favourite Jim Lauderdale, has joined him on the road.

For those who have witnessed the urgent sonic attack of the Attractions, Costello's new approach could hardly be more different. There's double bass, mandolin, accordion and several acoustic guitars. A drum-kit has been eschewed entirely. This organic, often languid, sound works well with expressive vocals of the Liverpool-raised singer of Irish stock.


As expected, there's a strong emphasis on the newer material; although, in truth, the low-tempo pace soon tries the patience. Luckily, a stunning as-yet-unreleased song, 'Condemned Man', comes along to pin restless punters to their seats and it's followed by one of the new album's best songs, 'Complicated Shadows', which features some glorious virtuoso slide guitar from Jerry Douglas.

Costello is an engaging raconteur and his showman qualities are revealed on several occasions, not least when he dusts down some old favourites.

'New Amsterdam' sounds especially fine, not least when its coda fades into a lovely version of the Beatles's 'You've Got to Hide Your Love Away', while a faithful rendition of 'Alison' offers a reminder of what a great songwriter the young Elvis Costello was.

The highlight of the night is the sombre 'Shipbuilding'. One of the greatest -- and most subtle -- protest songs ever written, its message about the futility of war is as relevant for those caught up in today's conflicts as it was when released during the height of the Falklands debacle. That it sits somewhat uneasily between jaunty Americana only serves to accentuate its impact.

Crosby, Stills and Nash The O2, Dublin

IT IS as if the entire audience has been lifted up to karaoke heaven. Crosby, Stills and Nash are about to release their first-ever covers album and Dublin is being treated to a sneak preview. Hence, the unexpected sight of the silver-cropped uber hippies belting out heartfelt readings of The Rolling Stones' 'Ruby Tuesday', The Beatles' 'Norwegian Wood' and Dylan's 'Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands'.

As you would expect of a trio of musicians who more or less wrote the A-Z of mutton-chopped folk rock, their interpretations are heavy on multi-part harmonies, crystalline guitars and wafting falsettos. They also threaten to go on forever, with 'Ruby Tuesday' distended to the point where the shimmer of the Stones' version starts to fade. The best compliment you can pay is that, if the originals weren't so (overly) familiar, you could easily mistake them for CSN compositions.

De-facto frontman for the evening, Graham Nash explains the covers record was their record company's idea. Someone at head office should take a bow because there's never been a better time for a Crosby, Stills and Nash comeback.


Dismissed for decades as the epitome of hippy indulgence, their starry-eyed folk has roared back into fashion. From Bon Iver to Fleet Foxes to Midlake, upcoming songsmiths have lavishly acknowledged their influence, even embracing the beards 'n' sideburns sartorial sensibility Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young pioneered in the early '70s.

Still, the nostalgia circuit is CSN's bread and butter and they know the importance of giving value to fans. Thus, in addition to previewing the new LP, favourites from every phase of their 40-year career are dusted down.

David Crosby, in particular, relishes the part of rock 'n' roll survivor (despite his pastoral music, he spent the greater part of the '70s bingeing on self-destruction). That doesn't stop him delivering the night's most poignant moment, a breathy reading of 'Guinnevere' that slows the pulse and raises a tingle in places you didn't know goose-bumps could exist.

Irish Independent

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