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Elvis Costello

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Five stars

"I never thought I'd have to sing this again," says Elvis Costello before the final song of a two and a half hour set that makes up the very personal rummage through his back pages that is his solo Detour show. By this time he's showed us snaps from a family album that includes footage of his dad, big band crooner Ross McManus, after introducing the evening with videos of his own career on a giant mock-up of a 1960s TV set. He's entered with a shimmy and moved from acoustic guitar to electric with a stint at the piano in between.

One minute Costello is a showbiz raconteur cracking jokes, the next he's playing a ferocious version of Watching the Detectives while bathed in a moody green light as retro-styled pulp fiction posters flash up behind him. There is a funereal piano-led version of his Falklands War elegy, Shipbuilding, and an unamplified Alison. Following a blistering take on Oliver's Army against an image of a World War One army band just like the one his grand-dad was in, Costello holds his guitar aloft like a weapon.

There are new songs from a forthcoming musical about the power of TV to create demagogues, followed by the heartbreak of Indoor Fireworks and a lovely She. But when Costello ends the night with a story of visiting an underfunded hospital to see his 90 year old mum before singing Tramp the Dirt Down, the renewed relevance of the song he wrote in response to Margaret Thatcher is electrifying. In this way, as Costello takes stock of his now classic canon, he reinvents it in a way that reinvigorates it with every hearing.

The Herald, March 20th 2017

ends

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