If I may, I would like to step away from Ireland for just a moment, but I won’t go too far. The rope bridge will be here shortly, I promise. Last night while most of Chicago was either home, or in their favorite tavern watching the Bears and Devin Hester topple Brett Farve and the Minnesota Vikings, Maureen and I had the great pleasure of seeing a one man acoustic show by one of our favorite musicians, Elvis Costello. My sister Laura was there too, so she kept us up to date on the score of the game between songs.
When my older sister Carrie had first suggested seeing Elvis again, this time at The Chicago Theater, I almost second guessed myself and passed on the opportunity. The tickets were a bit more pricey than the last time we saw him at Ravinia, an outdoor venue that is known for its cheap lawn seats and open picnic basket policy, but we had such a great time at that show that I couldn’t say no. And if I did, Maureen probably would have just gone without me anyway. What none of us realized until the show was almost ready to start was that this was going to be a solo event for Mr. MacManus. Just one man, a sold out house, and about eight guitars.
I have seen Elvis a number of time over the years, but never quite in a setting like last night. The best way to describe it was like being at a live version of his Sundance Channel show Spectacle, only without the guests. It was very casual with Elvis speaking to the audience almost as though all 3,500 of us were right in his living room. What did concern me a little was that as we sat down I couldn’t help but wonder why we had been seated in the old people section, until I realized that I was one of those old people, along with most of the audience. The crowd as a whole may have been skidding down the back side of the hill, but they were still very enthusiastic and appreciative of the night and the music.
To kick things off, Elvis just sort of walked out on stage, waved at the audience, picked up a guitar and started right in with (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes, and the night just took off from there. It was a great mix of the old and the new, with more than a half dozen songs coming from his most recent release National Ransom which was produced by T-Bone Burnett, who also just happens to have been the producer of another of mine and Maureen’s favorite bands, the BoDeans. In traditional Elvis style, there was also an eclectic mix of musical nods to other artists from The Animals to Van Morrison, and even included a “holiday” song entitled St. Stephen’s Day Murders which he had originally recorded with The Chieftains for their 1991 album The Bells of Dublin.
See, I haven’t wandered too far from Ireland, and there will be more about the Chieftains when our adventure gets to Westport.
But back to Elvis. For me, there were two highlights that really made the night exciting. The first came rather early in the night when Elvis announced that he was going to play a song of his that he really hated. That is, he hated it until he learned to play it right. Later, he played a totally reinvented rendition of Everyday I Write the Book that brought the audience to it feet yet again. The other highlight was getting to hear Elvis play the guitar. Maureen had always said that she felt Elvis had a voice that sounded like whiskey should taste, and I had always known he was a great musician as well, but to hear what variety he could get from his instruments, including a feedback electric guitar solo after Watching the Detectives that was as brilliant as it was unexpected, was the real treat of the night.
Very rarely do you find yourself at a concert were it seems that the artist is having just as much fun as the audience, but last night was one of them. It seemed that Elvis just couldn’t bring himself to leave the stage as the crowd stood to cheer him on each time the show seemed like it was at an end. Several times, the house lights actually began to come up, only to fade quickly as Elvis reentered the stage. For more than two hours he entertained us, and as a reward we got to hear a very cool slowed down version of (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding, before he finally left the stage.
By the smiles and the goodwill being expressed by all those leaving the show, I would say Elvis really did give us our money’s worth last night. It is just too bad that Elvis really did have to finally leave the building.