Reviewing Elvis Costello: The Singing Songbook Tour kicks off in Vancouver

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Elvis Costello at the Orpheum Theatre photo

Elvis Costello at the Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver, April 10 2012. Robyn Hanson photo

Man, when I was a teenager there was no one whose music I loved more than Elvis Costello’s.

My Aim is True, This Year’s Model, Armed Forces, Get Happy, Trust, and Imperial Bedroom – each new album was like a message from the gods. I listened to them obsessively and played them on acoustic guitar; the massive songbook A Singing Dictionary, which included guitar tabs and lyrics to the first four Elvis Costello albums, plus the B-sides compilation Taking Liberties, was my bible.

Growing up in Winnipeg, however, I never got to see him perform, although a close friend of mine, Eugene Osudar, saw him in 1977 at the Manitoba Playhouse (and raves about it to this day). Costello was then on his first North American tour, for his debut My Aim is True, and played for something like 35 minutes.

However, living in Vancouver – which also now happens to be Costello’s adopted hometown, since he married B.C. native Diana Krall – means I’ve had more than a few opportunities to see my teenage hero live.

Last night’s Orpheum show, which was the kick-off of his 2012 Spectacular Spinning Songbook Tour with The Imposters, was I believe my third time seeing the so-called “beloved entertainer” at the old theatre. Three years ago I also saw him outdoors, at the Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park with his band the Sugarcanes; and I vaguely recall seeing him perform with just keyboardist Steve Nieve in 1999 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (read the late Dave Watson‘s review here).

But this concert may well have been the best yet, and proved to me that the 58-year-old still has the punk fire in him, and that he can still rock ‘n’ roll when he wants to – even if at times Costello seems to have let showbiz go to his head (let’s just say he sometimes reminded me of that uncle who thinks he’s a lot funnier than he actually is).

I especially loved hearing/seeing him do “Strict Time”, “You Belong to Me” and “Five Gears in Reverse”, a few of the more obscure songs from his lengthy catalogue. Oh, and “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea”, inexplicably a fan favourite. And I mean that in a good way.

And you can’t beat The Imposters – whom Costello called “the best band in the world” – for tight, ferocious playing.

You can read my full review here.

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