Lucid Culture


Elvis Costello Lights up the Greene Space

Last night, in his only New York performance this fall, Elvis Costello and his latest band the Sugarcanes treated a sold-out crowd at WNYC’s Greene Space in SoHo to a lush, often riveting mix of new material (the interview with host Leonard Lopate airs tomorrow, November 3). Costello’s politically charged new album National Ransom is just out, a tuneful, erudite, classy state-of-the-world address which would be the highlight of just about any other musician’s career. For Costello, it’s just another album (double vinyl album, to be precise, also available in the usual digital configurations). Looking wiry and wired, the greatest songwriter in the history of the English language bantered bitingly between songs with Lopate, who quickly sized up the situation and smartly backed off, letting his fellow chatshow host take over and entertain the crowd. At one point, Costello leaned over to look at Lopate’s cheat sheet: Lopate feigned umbrage, Costello graciously responding that his own guests always peek at the questions before they’re asked.

Given the new album’s vintage Americana flavor, Lopate remarked that the songs would be suited for a 78 RPM recording (which Costello has actually done recently). Costello replied that he’d be “utilizing all the available formats to the fullest extent possible…I’m trying to make as many records as possible before the whole thing shuts down.” He was quick to belittle the sonic limitations of an mp3: “They sound like hell – can I say ‘shite?””

Lopate reminded him that there was no going back since the cat was now out of the bag. “Direct to the ears is the best,” Costello grinned, playing to the crowd. He belittled his own guitar chops, as usual, but he played well, firing off a deft series of chromatics on his concluding solo out of a tense, potently evocative version of One Bell Rings, a chillingly allusive account of a torture victim inspired by the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes. Lopate focused on the album’s social relevance: when prodded, Costello didn’t claim to have any answers, although he was quick to assert that, referring to the 2008 market crash, “In other times, if you could have a negative value as currency, they would have thought you were a witch!” The theme played to a murderous crescendo on a rousing version of the album’s title cut, accordionist Jeff Taylor imbuing it with a bit of a zydeco flavor as he would many of the other songs.

The rest of the show was equally gripping. They’d opened with a swinging version of a straight-up country song, I Lost You, following with Dr. Watson I Presume, which builds to an understatedly haunting, relentless, deathly countdown. Jimmie Standing in the Rain, a brooding chronicle of a 1930s performer who “picked the wrong time to do cowboy music – not that there’s a right time,” evoked the terse grimness of Richard Thompson’s Al Bowlly’s in Heaven. The upbeat R&B of The Spell That You Cast had the whole band doing a call-and-response with backing vocals; That’s Not the Part of Him You’re Leaving may be the best country song Costello’s ever written, a lushly successful mix of vintage countrypolitan and characteristically acerbic lyricism. They closed with a mysteriously lyrical spy story, All These Strangers. The album comes out today.

November 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Rosanne Cash at the Greene Space, NYC 9/23/09

The great thing about shows at the Greene Space is that many of them are broadcast live on WNYC and then archived at the station’s site, where you can find this particular one. That’s right, you don’t have to take our word for it, go right to WNYC and hear the amazing little set Rosanne Cash played this afternoon on Soundcheck with John Schaefer. She has a new album coming out titled The List, based on a hundred-song list her dad gave her when she was eighteen. “This was a guy who listened to everything, metal included,” Johnny Cash’s daughter took care to point out, but her dad’s compilation was basically Americana, a “musical genealogy,” she explained, a not-so-subtle hint for a teenager who up to that point had gravitated closer to the Beatles than to classic country. She’s done plenty of covers, but this will be her first all-covers album – and since there’ll still be ninety or so more songs on her dad’s list that she won’t have on this cd, a second volume seems likely as well.

Backed by a five-piece, electric two-guitar band who played the songs with unabashed relish, Cash soared wounded and sultry over her husband John Leventhal’s smartly counterintuitive countrypolitan arrangements. In the studio, she’s finely nuanced – live, there are few others (Jenifer Jackson is one) who can find so much emotional subtlety yet still pack such a wallop – if she’s been injured, you can tell from just a minute inflection of her voice where she’s been hit and what caliber the shell was. Yet her stage presence is casual and amusing, not bad for someone carrying a legacy that would crush plenty of other artists (in addition to her own: Black Cadillac is every bit as good as anything her dad ever did)

The Hank Snow standard Movin’ On swung casually but incisively, as did Jimmie Rodgers’ Miss the Mississippi. Sea of Heartbreak (a duet with Bruce Springsteen on the album) was understated in the tradition of the 1961 Don Gibson original. They wrapped up the set with Long Black Veil, Cash not bothering to change the lyrics to fit traditional gender roles – when she got to the end of the chorus, “nobody knows,” the intensity was something considerably beyond wrenching.

You can hear the complete show at WNYC, including some commentary by Bebel Gilberto (who has a new album out as well) and NPR critic Tom Moon – who seems to be a decently aware classical/jazz guy whose knowledge of rock ends right about 1976, the end of the boomer era – about music as a legacy for future generations.

September 23, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment