Ultimate Entertainer Elvis Costello Wows Sold Out Gramercy for Ten Nights

The ticket price inflation aside, the ten night gig in an intimate theater brought out best in ageless star Elvis Costello who truly loves to perform. He pulled from his obviously huge catalog to play a different set of songs for each of the ten nights, so no two nights were the same show.

| 23 Feb 2023 | 02:23

Does any rock and roll star performing today have a greater generosity of spirit than Elvis Costello?

In the tradition of his mates Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen, Costello is at his core a crowd pleaser. He likes to perform and see an audience enjoying itself. He enjoys talking to the crowd between songs, giving off the impression that he is getting as much out of the concert experience as his devoted audience.

In fact, a Vanity Fair writer once put it best when he described Costello as a “performance slut.” It was a compliment! The man simply does not like to leave the stage. If he were an athlete, you’d say he left it all on the field night after night.

This dedication was on display when I caught up to Elvis Costello’s show on Feb. 16 at the Gramercy. It was show #6 during an unprecedented ten-gig stand at the 500-seat hall on East 23rd Street.

The concerts are billed as Costello endeavoring not to repeat performances of his songs during his 10-show engagement, amounting to him daring to play a separate and distinct show every night, save for the usual closer of “Peace, Love and Understanding.”

It’s an audacious attempt to please an audience. Costello has long tried to come up with different kinds of hooks. In October 1986, he played a five-show stand on Broadway, with two bands on various nights. He even came up with the Spectacular Spinning Songbook, consisting of a colorful wheel on stage. It listed many of his songs. An audience member came on stage and turned the wheel. Costello and his band then played whatever song it landed on. That was a hoot!

Steve Nieve’s Gifts

Best of all, at the Gramercy, Elvis was accompanied by Steve Nieve, his keyboard collaborator since the earliest days of Elvis Costello and the Attractions in the 1970s.

Nieve is a marvel: endlessly inventive, spirited and completely in tune with Costello’s vision for the songs. The pair has developed by now a remarkable, telepathic understanding of what the other musician will do next. It is a pleasure to watch them improvise.

The setlist at my show did not disappoint. Elvis inserted such hidden gems from his catalog as “Motel Matches,” “The Loved Ones,” “What’s Her Name Today?” (two Gram Parsons masterpieces, “How Much I Lied” and “I’m Your Toy” ), “The Long Honeymoon” and “All Grown Up.”

I’d have to say his tribute to Gram Parsons was the high point for me. Elvis can certainly belt out “Pump It Up” and “Radio Radio” and sound completely convincing. But I have a sneaky fondness for his tributes to George Jones and the other Nashville cats. I’d love to see Elvis do a night of country songs sometime soon.

Obscene Ticket Prices

The Gramercy shows had a lot to live up to, for the ticket prices were obscene, stretching well into the three-figure range.

It says a lot about where the concert biz is today. Granted, venues and performers alike took it on the chin when the Covid scare discouraged so many people from going to see live shows.

The performers had to cancel shows and stay off the road. Nowadays, they make their money primarily from performances, as streaming services have cut deeply into their income.

Well, the music moguls have struck back with a vengeance.

Judging by the insane ticket prices for Costello, while remembering the fury of Springsteen’s fans, it is safe to say that our beloved performers won’t be missing any meals.

Quality Show

But the prices had nothing to do with detracting from the quality of Costello’s show. Ahem. It is kind of a big deal for ME to praise a Costello concert by now. You see, I have seen him on stage roughly 90 times since he and the Attractions first invaded U.S. shores in November 1977. I can honestly say that he has never let me down.

Over the years, Elvis has recorded and toured with a variety of musicians, usually working with Nieve and ace drummer Pete Thomas. When Bruce Thomas played bass in Costello’s band, the sound was magical, the best rock and roll group of its time.

Elvis’ insistence on playing a different show each night was a master stroke. The man has hundreds of songs to choose from, not to mention the arsenal of covers he does so well. It is freeing for him not to have to dip back into his greatest-hits file and pound out yet another rendition of “Alison” or “Pump It Up.”

Leave it to a noted crowd pleaser like Elvis Costello to come up with a way to keep his show fresh after 45 years of performances. He still loves to sing and play – and we are lucky to have him in our lives

Leave it to a noted crowd pleaser like Elvis Costello to come up with a way to keep his show fresh after 45 years of performances.