BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene blog
As photos of Elvis Costello as a young man scrolled across the screen of the giant TV set behind him onstage, it quickly became apparent that not much has changed.
His quirkiness and intelligence are still his greatest gifts. The spectacles are still proudly geek-chic. And sure, at 62 there might be a couple of extra pounds on his frame and fewer hairs on his head – just like most of us in the crowd – but the essence of his Elvis-ness is still prominent.
At Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on Tuesday, Costello wrapped the latest leg of his solo show, dubbed “Detour.” Joining him, as they have on several tours, was Atlanta’s Larkin Poe, who opened with a scorching 30-minute set (more on them later) and shared the stage with Costello during his encores.
For more than two hours Costello engaged the crowd, which filled about three-quarters of the venue, with rich, vivid stories in between songs spanning his nearly 40-year career.
Standing in the center of a stage filled with kitschy items such as the aforementioned TV set, an “On Air” sign, a mega-sized megaphone, a row of five carefully arranged acoustic guitars and, of course, a lighted “Detour” sign, Costello dove into “Hand in Hand,” “Accidents Will Happen” and, after sharing a sweet anecdote about his longtime friendship with New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint, “Ascension Day.”
With the slight nasal tone to his voice exactly where it should be, Costello strummed intensely through a recalibrated “Everyday I Write the Book” before slipping behind a piano. “I had to borrow it from my wife. I promised to give it back to her undamaged,” he quipped (the wife being jazz pianist-singer Diana Krall).
Costello brought hushed vulnerability to “Shot with His Own Gun” and “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror,” before sharing the title song to the musical he’s working on, “A Face in the Crowd.”
Displaying warmth and gratitude every time he moved around the stage and bowed or smiled at the crowd, Costello managed the ideal balance between humor and pathos as he recalled his father’s career as a singer (“Ghost Train”) and reworked his poppiest hit, “Veronica,” so that its inherent melancholy seeped through the bouncing melody he created with Paul McCartney.
Costello also, well, detoured, to pay tribute to Chuck Berry on his 90th birthday, unfurling a loose electric guitar take on “No Particular Place to Go” before using a looping technique to adrenalize “Watching the Detectives” with a screaming guitar solo.
A highlight of the show was Costello’s performance of “Alison,” performed sans microphone and with only an acoustic guitar as the backdrop. But within moments of crooning its final note, Costello exited the stage and bounced back wearing a purple top hat and flanked by Megan and Rebecca Lovell of Larkin Poe.
The sisters complemented Costello on “Blame it on Cain,” with Megan delivering a stinging lap steel guitar solo, while Rebecca’s blues-rock voice smoldered on “Burn the Paper Down to Ash,” another song from Costello’s musical.
During their 30-minute opening set, the Lovells smeared their Southern gothic vibe over “Tom Devil” and “Hey Sinner,” which dovetailed into a sassy version of “Black Betty.”
Rebecca’s voice is so potent, it matched the stomping of her kick drum. But she and Megan together create a magical, haunting sound.
“Trouble in Mind” showcased their musical prowess and kinetic sisterly connection, while their rendition of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” defined chilling.
Larkin Poe is no doubt receiving quite a musical education from their time spent with Costello, but he, too, is sharing in something special.