James O Mara
It would have, at once point not so long ago, seemed impossible that mention of the name Elvis would lead to the question Which one? Answer, this month: Costello. Unbelievably, it’s been nearly four decades now since he emerged, squinting, bespectacled, and biting off his hyper-literate lyrics steeped in acrimony, jealousy, and bitterness.
I first saw him play live in 1982, with his classic backing band, the Attractions; he was like nothing less than the unholy nebbish spawn of Dylan, Holly, and a glowering divorced cousin at a boozy family
reunion. Since then, Elvis Costello has confounded expectation and become something quite unexpected: a wholly original institution, and an artist who absorbs and channels damn near every genre of pop music into a vast and far-reaching catalog.
While it’s an output littered with so-so collaborations, it’s also one with drop-dead gems aplenty (YouTube the video for 1989’s
“Veronica” for a poignant mid-career tearjerker, or investigate just about anything from the intricate classic Imperial Bedroom). He’s also a generous and expansive live performer—and in this stripped-down solo tour arriving at the O’Shaughnessy, he’ll dig deep into both his own work and others’, including pre-rock British and American music for a journey into the deep DNA of song and unexpected connections between ostensibly separate genres.
There might not be abundant opportunities for audiences in Minnesota to catch him in the future: Elvis is almost 60 and, if not quite ready to leave the building, in a recent BBC documentary he declared himself close to finished with the game—reason enough to catch him this time around, because that angry young man of decades past has become an entirely legitimate, if unlikely, legend.