Elvis Costello's Two-Hour Summerfest Marathon

Jul. 5, 2009
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The challenge for Elvis Costello: Whether to spend his hour show playing his old hits or his ample recent material. The solution: Spend two hours playing both.

Anybody hoping to hear a particular song at Costellos super-sized set Sunday night at Summerfests M&I Classic Rock Stage probably walked away happy. Among the highlights: Everyday I Write the Book, Clubland I Hope Youre Happy Now, Watching the Detectives, Radio Radio, Accidents Will Happen, (I Dont Want to Go To) Chelsea, Uncomplicated, Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes, a rocking version of the not-inherently rocking Beyond Belief and a sing-along (Whats So Funny Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding to close the night. Costello so methodically touched on his career highlights that it almost seemed like an oversight that he neglected to play anything from 1980s Get Happy!!, his R&B album, but maybe he didnt have to, since even Costellos genre experimentsfolk, Americana, reggae, rock n rollare nonetheless grounded in the R&B songwriting conventions that record made explicit. To prove the point, Costello bent his most celebrated ballad, Alison, into a soul medley, boisterously crooning Try a Little Tenderness, Tears of a Clown and Suspicious Minds as if hed written them himself.

Summerfests Classic Rock Stage is where headliners go to die, making a restless shark like Costello an odd fit for the stage. Hes not one to coast on nostalgia. He unceremoniously positioned Pump it Up as the second song of his set, denying himself a safe set-closer, and he matched every hit with a deep cut or newer tune, most of which the crowd ate up.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Costellos setaside from how fiercely and consistently it rocked and how aggressive a guitarist Costello has becomeis how even at two hours it barely scratched the surface of Costellos songbook. Perhaps wisely, Costello avoided any number that might kill the party, but that decision came at the expense of darker tunes like Shabby Doll and I Want You" not to mention prestige material like his jazz standard Almost Blue and his Oscar-nominated Scarlet Tide. Itd take a week of shows to do justice to Costellos entire discography, but last nights was the perfect, upbeat primer for a celebration like Summerfest.

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