By: Clemence Bernard
Declan Patrick MacManus, a.k.a. Elvis Costello, is my ideal depiction of a folk poet. A troubadour at heart, he persists as a foremost storyteller of his generation, a revolutionary of the new wave movement with a heart vulnerable enough to be smitten with country. As immune to the artificial pressures of fame as a musician of his calibre could be, Elvis’ performance was an honest display of immense musicianship filled with stirring lyrics, confident guitar strumming with sometimes-shaky vocals, lined with good old British sarcasm.
He started off strong, energetic and determined with the usual introductory “Welcome to the Working Week” on the telecaster, the feedback effect and hails of the crowd intertwined. The energy charged the room as he relished in his own dramatic entrance, wearing a black and grey suit, with his immortal beige hat and trademark glasses. Then followed “King Horse” and “45”, his “small part in a socio-political survey of the last twenty years”, which somehow amusingly included guttural echoes of the likes of Pocahontas. The bluesy rhythm of “God’s Comic” then led us to follow him as he stomped his right foot against the stage.
When he switched to his acoustic Gibson, Elvis reminisced about his youth as an exiled traveller before he sang his drinking song, “The Deportees Club”, a list of drinks few have heard of, “Ouzo, pernod vodka sambuca”, muddled with his personal critique on deportation “in America law is a piece of ass, I’m a deportee”. When “Veronica” came on, it was clear Elvis had moved into his comfort zone. The off-sounding minor seventh chords a throwback to ’91 for Ithaca hippies, as he fluctuated the rhythm excitedly with the changing intonations of his voice. He referred back to his younger self as the “pioneer of glitter rock”, mocking his own inclination towards “flashy-looking guitars with lots of gold” and sharing his young dreams of belonging to The Who.
Yet, my favourites were the songs stripped down to their bare minimum, where Elvis’ dispersed mistakes made for an even more endearing performance in his fearless transitions from falsettos to haunting lows, as in “American without Tears” or in his whistling version of “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home”. His modesty shone through the second encore where he undressed his vocals to “Everyday I write the Book”, the way Ron Sexsmith taught him.
The State Theatre suited Elvis for this solo performance, perfect in its slight imperfections, as he praised Ithacans’ love of music when he declared that rock’n’roll was invented in Ithaca, “cooked up in a science lab at Cornell”.
Some might argue Elvis needs a band to help him out, that a musician approaching his sixtieth birthday should consider concealing his blemishes with back-up singers the way Jackson Browne did when he hit fifty. I’d say the beauty of Elvis’ performance lies in the confidence he has in his own musical path; if anything, he deserves more credit for never giving in to anybody else’s expectations.