Elvis Costello at Symphony Hall

In my last post I mentioned the forthcoming Nick Drake tribute concert at the recently refurbished Town Hall. Last week we had the rare privilege of seeing Elvis Costello’s collaboration with The Brodsky Quartet at TH’s big sister, the magnificent Symphony Hall. It was the first time I’ve seen a concert at the venue and my first real experience music of a classical persuasion in a live setting.

elviscostelloImage Courtesy of Andy Watson (DRW Images)

The five musicians were arranged in a semi-circle with Costello at the centre: this was most definitely a collaborative effort rather than “Elvis Costello with Strings”. This became more apparent with his warm and witty anecdotal introductions to the pieces and their origins. For their part, The Brodsky Quartet created music that passionately evoked the emotion of Costello’s words.

I have to admit that my previous experiences with his music are fairly limited, but it has always come across that he’s a master at capturing the joy, sadness and folly of the human condition. Hearing ‘Pills and Soap’, ‘My Mood Swings’ and ‘Shipbuilding’ dramatically rearranged, with their lyrics laid bare made this irrefutable. The accomplished quartet turned from high drama to playful whimsy with Costello, always seeming to get it just right. Their reinterpretations of a 1930s political rally song – set to appear on Costello’s forthcoming album Secret, Profane and Sugarcane – and of ‘PS I Love You’ brought levity to the formality of the setting.

I’ve always liked Elvis Costello’s charming and idiosyncratic voice, his ability to do so much with what seemed to be a limited range. The incredible acoustics of the Symphony Hall showed off a vocal dexterity and range I had previously missed, not least when he stepped away from the microphone and performed a new song for the first time, completely unplugged. The audience’s response was, of course, rapturous applause.

Secret, Profane, Sugarcane is released on 1st June.

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