Elvis Costello in Edmonton
Edmonton Folk Festival, August 10 1995, Gallagher Park, Edmonton, Canada
by Dave Pannell
Having missed out on the Brutal Youth and Brodsky Quartet tours in Australia, and with Elvis seeming to finish his period of intensive touring, I was pessimistic and a bit down about when I would next see him in concert. So it was a huge bonus to get an email from Mike Bodayle with the news that Edmonton Folk Festival was negotiating for a performance in August, coinciding with my visit to Saskatchewan, the neighbouring province.
Luckily the date of the event fit in nicely with ECís schedule, following immediately from his five shows in New York with the Attractions showcasing and trying out new material, and just before returning to Ireland to record the next album. A month before the festival I heard on the news that Gallagher Park (the venue) was badly damaged in a freak storm. The organisers made soothing noises, but they sounded a bit worried to me. Then in the week leading up to the festival, the heavens opened. It rained unrelentingly, reaching a climax with a deluge of almost three inches of rain in one day. My friends in Edmonton said it always rains on the folk festival.
I arrived in Edmonton with it still raining and with reports of the organisers laying down special plastic pathways to cope with the mud. It smacked of panic. Then on the day of the show (the first of the four-day festival) it miraculously cleared up. As the first performers of the night came on, the sun appeared for the first time. By the time Elvis came on at 9:50 it was still and clear Ė an absolutely perfect night. This was truly meant to be.
Elvis was the festivalís headline act, and the program promised a "rare acoustic performance", which I took to be a solo show with acoustic guitar, probably with a set list similar to the recent shows supporting Bob Dylan. That is more or less what we got, with some surprises thrown in. After Red Shoes and Just About Glad, it was clear that Elvis was in good voice and good humour. The first "new" song was All This Useless Beauty, written for June Tabor, who apparently was partly responsible for ECís appearance at the festival. She and T-Bone Burnett both recommended the festival to him as an interesting and fun event.
The first real surprise came in the fifth song, which he started with a new short piece (just eight lines) with an unusual melody and starting with "Speak darkly my angel, or do I have to plead". This led into Our Little Angel, (a song he has not performed very often) perhaps playing on the "angel" connection. Shallow Graves was described as a song he had "written with that famous R&B artist from the Liverpool Delta, Honeyboy McCartney.
Then I was delighted to hear the rare and unusual live solo performance of St. Stephenís Day Murders. It seems that Elvis must have enjoyed playing it at the Meltdown festival to pull it out of the bag like this. He informed us that the tune is based on an "air" called Banish Misfortune. Following Alison/You Win Again there were two more tracks lined up for the next album: Itís Starting to Come to Me and Complicated Shadows.
Then came the highlight of the show. Following the death of Gerry Garcia the day before, I thought there was a good chance that Elvis would perform Ship of Fools. It might have been predictable, but it was powerful and moving nevertheless. He really gave himself in a very emotional performance. He didnít say much about it, just "Thatís one for the big man". Most of the audience didnít get it, Iím sure.
Another play on titles followed with a fine Shipbuilding. The show finished with Little Atoms (an emerging Ďspottersí favourite), and a Spike double of Godís Comic and Deep Dark Truthful Mirror. There was time for only one encore (Radio Sweetheart/Jackie Wilson Said) before the festival organisers enforced their strict 11pm curfew. "We donít want to wake up the neighbours". This was a high quality show, as reflected in the audience response and the extremely positive newspaper coverage. Well worth coming 10,000 mile for. The next day it rained again and the venue turned to a cold, muddy wallow.
Just About Glad
All This Useless Beauty
New Amsterdam/Youíve Got to Hide Your Love Away
Speak Darkly my Angel (?)/Our Little Angel
St. Stephenís Day Murders
Alison/You Win Again
Itís Starting to Come to Me
Ship of Fools
Deep Dark Truthful Mirror
Radio Sweetheart/Jackie Wilson Said