So Elvis Costello is playing in town tonight. I am a fan. I admire a lot of things about Elvis besides the fact that he’s written hundreds of songs, a very high percentage of which I find listenable, dozens I think are pretty great, and at least a handful I don’t know how I lived without. (Not ’til I was 22 did a pal give me a copy of the The Very Best of Elvis Costello & The Attractions, if you can believe.)
Admittedly, my can’t-live-without E.C. playlist does not include anything from, say, the album he made with Anne Sofie von Otter, or the one he made with Burt Bacharach. But I commend his adventurousness and versatility, and especially his work ethic: He’s always giving songs away, interviewing Lou Reed or Bruce Springsteen or Bill Clinton on premium cable, singing on other people’s records, teaching himself musical notation 20 years into his career, composing a ballet, making unaccountable cameos in movies like Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, writing an opera, and here and there tossing off another perfectly nasty rock song like it’s nothing. Dude always has four projects cooking and and nine more on the back burner, and he seems to pay for his collection of funny hats by flying around playing concerts that seldom repeat a setlist and regularly clock in around two-and-a-half hours. So: Respect.
Of course, Elvis’s productivity and idiomatic wanderlust are the selfsame qualities that can make him seem like an annoying magpie, especially to listeners who only want to hear him spit venom about Liv Tyler’s mom while keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas open up the throttle. Continue reading