Elvis Costello and Steve Nieve in Australia/New Zealand
January-February 1999
by Dave Pannell and John Everingham


Consider the situation for Elvis in Australia before this tour. Through most of the 1990s, Elvis has had a vanishingly small media profile, at least in Oz (we can’t speak for NZ). Even Painted From Memory was barely noticed on release, despite the media frenzy elsewhere. Through the decade, album sales have been small and diminishing. There had been a very long gap since the last tour (1991), which was, in any case, not his most successful. (Crowds were down, the reviews were mixed, Elvis was perhaps under pressure to fill all the guitar duties as the Rude 5 shrank alarmingly to 3, and to top it all off, he was wearing that beard.)

What a difference a tour makes. Considering where we started from, the media interest, the unbridled enthusiasm of the reviews, the response of the crowds, and the ease with which venues were sold out repeatedly were extraordinary. There can scarcely ever have been a series of serious concert reviews in Australian popular newspapers to rival the unstinting praise heaped on Elvis and Steve Nieve during this tour. New Zealand wasn’t quite the same, but we’ll come to that. At present, to be an Elvis fan in Oz is as cool and respectable as it has ever been. It was achieved by wit, charm, generosity, and a series of breathtakingly brilliant performances. Here’s how it unfolded.

New Zealand

Dave: When the New Zealand show at the Sweetwaters Festival was announced in July 1998, I pondered the possibility of an Oz tour being tied in. As the months passed, it seemed less likely, and I couldn’t help remembering the way he flew in and out for a one-off show at the first Sweetwaters Festival in 1980 – a show that seems to have passed into New Zealand music folk-lore, and is described so amusingly by Bruce Thomas in The Big Wheel. Eventually I had to make a decision. New Zealand is not exactly around the corner. In fact it takes eight hours of flying time over four legs to get there from my home in Albany, Western Australia. But this did seem like my best, and maybe only, chance of seeing Elvis for the time being.

When I’d finished making all the arrangements (November), the Australian tour was announced.

As I flew into Auckland, the following event was taking place.

22 January 1999, Shereton Hotel, Auckland, New Zealand

Charity Show, Elvis Costello joins Neil Finn and Tim Finn

Dave: This exclusive (200 ticket) charity show was held as a prelude to the Sweetwaters festival. Elvis played a brief set together with Neil Finn and Tim Finn, formerly of Crowded House and Split Enz. According to the "Sunday Star Times" of Jan 24, "the truly magical moments came in the finale when our own Finn brothers stepped onto the stage to rapturous acclaim. … Neil Finn announce ‘Elvis is in the building’ – and a beaming Elvis Costello stepped on to the stage. They raced through a medley from their combined repertoires."

On January 25 I met Elvis and asked him about the show. He said that he had gone at the invitation of Neil Finn. According to Elvis, the set list was short and included "So Like Candy" (Elvis said the three of them sang one verse each), "Better Be Home Soon" (a Crowded House song), "The Drugs Don’t Work" (a song which Elvis felt has more than a passing resemblance to "Better Be Home Soon"), "Little Sister" (‘it was one we all knew’), and "He’ll Have to Go" (a special request by the Finns, on account of Elvis having performed it almost 20 years ago at his first Sweetwaters appearance). Elvis praised the beautiful voices of the Finn brothers and said how much he had enjoyed singing vocal harmonies on stage, as it is something he doesn’t often get a chance to do. I’m not sure of the actual order of songs, and I’m not certain that this song list is complete. Notwithstanding the newspaper report, it doesn’t sound like it was actually done as a medley.

24 January 1999, Sweetwaters Festival, Puhinui Reserve (near Auckland), New Zealand, (due to start 11pm Jan 24, actually started 12:05am, Jan 25)

Accidents Will Happen

The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes

Talking In The Dark

Blue Chair

I Still Have That Other Girl In My Head

(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea

Toledo

Good Year For The Roses

Radio Sweetheart

God's Comic

All This Useless Beauty

Veronica

Alison

God Give Me Strength

Encore 1

Shallow Grave

Watching The Detectives

Encore 2

Every Day I Write The Book

Olivers Army

Encore 3

What's So Funny About Peace Love And Understanding

Dave: The Sweetwaters Festival was a very amiable and family-friendly affair. The newspaper described it as ‘more happy than hippy.’ It was short on nudity, but had plenty of huge Maori bikies, who caused no trouble at all that I’m aware of. If it had rained, the place would clearly have been a swamp, but thankfully, it held off despite threatening skies.

They had planned on a crowd of 45,000 but fell well short – something like 30,000. They also spent a fortune trying to swamp-proof the place by trucking in gravel, but it would have been dreadful anyway if it had rained. So the bottom line was … red. No money. We were happy (I wonder was this ignorance or bliss?) that the queues for the facilities were nice and short. But I came crashing down to earth when a rumour reached my ears on the afternoon before his scheduled late-night show. "Elvis is threatening not to play. He hasn’t been paid." This came from someone with the claimed authority of someone knowing someone who was in one of the bands, and had first (or maybe second) hand knowledge from discussions back stage. I went into denial. He insisted. I felt ill.

The main stage was in action all day, but no dire announcement was made. As Paul Kelly finished his entertaining set, the stage was cleared and a grand piano appeared.

Relaaaaaaax.

It was a huge outdoor stage area, which is not ideal for the intimate delights of Costello and Nieve, but they performed with energy and enjoyment. Right from the start, Elvis was in great voice, and Steve was as delicate and creative as we know to expect (and Elvis started the trend of introducing him as "Professor" right here). The set list was, for the most part, highly predictable. This was, after all, a festival crowd, so only a minority would have had any allegiance to the man. I really appreciated the wisdom of wheeling out all the hits when half way through the 18th song (Oliver's Army – probably his biggest hit in NZ) the guy next to me said, "Is that Elvis Costello???!!!!! Awesome!" The two most obscure songs played were Talking in the Dark, which he played early on in every concert of the tour, and Blue Chair. They played only three tracks from Painted From Memory, and they went down very well. A funny moment was when a guy at the front called out "George Jones" just before Toledo. Elvis looked amused and said, "Patience comes to those who wait. … He doesn’t know what’s coming next." And sure enough, the following song was Good Year for the Roses. This was planned (it’s there on Elvis’s set list), not a response to the request.

Elvis made only one mention of the financial problems, saying that "nearly everybody" was not being paid and casting aspersions about the promoter. It was VERY clear that there was no love lost between them. It seemed that the rumours had nearly been right. I thanked Elvis in my head for going ahead and playing.

Later that day, I got to thank him in person! We were in neighbouring departure lounges at the airport. I was holding my copy of the local newspaper with Elvis on the cover (running the story about the dodgy promoter) when he strolled by. There he was, talking with Cait and Steve. (The sort of thing you daydream about in airports. Well, I do anyway.) We had quite a long, uninterrupted and very amiable chat, in which he held forth on … the evils of the festival’s promoter. Elvis still hadn’t been paid, and was ready to bring on the lawyers. He told me that he had done several lots of media to blast the guy, including some more that very morning. Elvis had been on the TV news the night of his show, threatening not to play. The promoter accused him of sabotaging attendance at the show by this, but nobody who was going would have even seen the news; we were already all out there waiting. He was interested in my perceptions about the show, and I asked him about the charity show, as described earlier. He’d had a couple of day’s holiday in New Zealand prior to the show, but he found it too hot. I was rather struck by this, as it had been very mild by Oz standards. He was going to get a LOT hotter in the next week. I suggested this, but he didn’t seem totally convinced. Later I realised that none of his previous tours of Oz had been in summer. As it turned out, he didn’t cook through the whole tour, just part of it. Finally I said that I was very grateful to him for going ahead with the show as I had come from Western Australia. He said, "It’s a good thing we played then." I can’t help wondering whether this conversation influenced what happened later in the tour. Probably not, but I can dream.

Australia, Phase 1

In all the shows, accompaniment for most songs was piano plus acoustic guitar, some songs were piano only, Steve left the stage for a short set (centering around Radio Sweetheart/Jackie Wilson Said), and there were two or three songs where Elvis donned an electric, either a semi-acoustic (Detectives, Shallow Graves) or a beautiful red telecaster-shaped "Girl" guitar (Peace Love and Understanding). Also in all the Oz shows, the last number was performed with the microphones switched off - a simple but incredibly moving and effective device. Most acts build up to something loud and frantic. Elvis built up to near silence.

25 January 1999, Queensland Performing Arts Complex, Brisbane, Australia

This is the only show on the tour that neither of us saw. There is only one Beyond Belief subscriber in Queensland, and he was stuck 1000 km away from the show with a work commitment. So our knowledge of the show is limited to the newspaper review. However, the review set the tone for the whole Oz tour: hugely enthusiastic and complimentary.

27 January 1999, Capitol Theatre, Sydney, Australia

1. Accidents Will Happen/ 24 Hours From Tulsa

2. Talking In The Dark

3. Blue Chair

4. I Still Have That Other Girl

5. Tears At The Birthday Party

6. Chelsea

7. Temptation

8. Toledo

9. The Long Honeymoon

10. This House Is Empty Now

11. Radio Sweetheart/Jackie Wilson Said

12. Red Shoes

13. God's Comic

14. All This Useless Beauty

15. Veronica

16. Alison

17. In The Darkest Place

Encore 1

18. Everyday I Write the Book

19. Good Year For The Roses

20. Such Unlikely Lovers

21. I Want You

Encore 2

22. Oliver's Army

23. Shipbuildng

24. Watching the Detectives

Encore 3

25. Almost Blue

26. God Give Me Strength

27. Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4

John: I was thrilled to be seeing Elvis again, after seeing him twice in concert with Steve Nieve and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Stockholm earlier in the month. He and Steve were to be performing 6 concerts in Australia. As it turned out they had 9 concerts. I was lucky enough to be able to attend 7 of them.

The first Sydney show saw Elvis bounce onto stage closely followed by Steve, and they launched straight into Accidents Will Happen, which was their opener for the first phase of the tour. Elvis was in fine voice, and Steve was introduced by Elvis at every concert as Professor Steve Nieve, showing the great respect that he has for Steve, as is indeed warranted.

All of the songs from Painted From Memory were a showcase for Elvis’s voice. His voice filled the theatre and really showed how great those songs are, especially in the cut down format of voice and piano, with the occasional guitar accompaniment. The songs had much more power and immediacy than the recorded versions. It was at times unbelievable that there were only the 2 of them up on stage; it was just so intense.

Part way through the show, Steve leaves the stage and Elvis stands there clutching his guitar, and sings Radio Sweetheart, combining this with Jackie Wilson Said. The back-up vocals for both of these were supplied by a very enthusiastic Sydney audience. Elvis had a rapport with them; it was pure magic!

Throughout the concert, Elvis joked with the audience, winning them over immediately. Blue Chair was a feature of the show, but it was I Want You, delivered with enormous intensity, that I thought was the overall highlight.

There were 3 encores, numerous standing ovations. We thought that there could be no way of finishing this concert of greatest hits, but after he had belted out a magnificent version of God Give Me Strength, he asked for the microphones to be turned off, and he steps to the front of the stage and sang Couldn’t Call It Unexpected #4. His voice, again strong and powerful, filled the hall. It was a totally incredible performance. It was with surprise that we realised that we had been treated to 27 songs.

28 January 1999, Capitol Theatre, Sydney, Australia

1. Accidents Will Happen/24 Hours From Tulsa

2. Red Shoes

3. Talking In The Dark/Dead End Street

4. I Still Have That Other Girl

5. What's Her Name Today

6. Chelsea/Walting Matilda

7. Still Too Soon To Know

8. Toledo

9. Just A Memory

10. Baby Plays Around

11. This House Is Empty Now

12. Little Palaces

13. New Amsterdam/You've Got To Hide Your Love Away

14. Radio Sweetheart/Jackie Wilson Said

15. Indoor Fireworks

Encore 1

16. God's Comic

17. All This Useless Beauty

18. Alison

Encore 2

19. Shallow Grave

20. Watching The Detectives

21. Painted From Memory

Encore 3

22. American Without Tears

23. Any Kings Shilling

24. Oliver's Army

25. Shipbuilding

26. Peace, Love and Understanding

Encore 4

27. Almost Blue

28. God Give Me Strength

29. Couldn't Call It Unexpected #4

John: Another amazing concert. Elvis asked if there were any people there who had been at the previous night's concert. There was a huge chorus of "Yes", Elvis promising us, and everyone else, some changes and surprises during the night, as indeed there were. This is the beauty of Elvis’ concerts - they vary from show to show as the whim takes them. Later, viewing the written set list that they were working from, showed that they had many options and possibilities to include different songs throughout the night.

Elvis started out rather hoarse, presumably from the previous night's fine concert. His voice was a little shaky in some places, and he even commented on this during the early part of the concert. Despite this, he did manage some very respectable performances of the early songs. Steve worked in a short segment of Waltzing Matilda (Australian folk song and unofficial national anthem) into Chelsea, which brought a big chuckle from the audience.

After some time, Elvis largely overcame his hoarseness, and his voice sounded extremely good thereafter, throughout the 4 encores. He was in great spirits, and didn't seem to want to leave the stage. Shallow Grave was a raucous affair. In American Without Tears we were treated to Elvis on harmonica, worn on a stand around his neck, a la Bob Dylan. The treatment of Any King's Shilling was just brilliant, being very tender.

For me Peace, Love And Understanding was one of the many highlights on the night, played very loud with electric guitar accompaniment.

*

(After the Sydney concert, I’m told that Elvis went to a doctor to discuss his throat situation. He was advised not to play Melbourne, at the risk of long term damage. – Dave)

29 January 1999, Melbourne Concert Hall, Melbourne, Australia

1. Accidents Will Happen

2. Red Shoes

3. Talking In The Dark

4. I Still Have That Other Girl

5. Tears At The Birthday Party

6. (I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea

7. Temptation

8. Toledo

9. The Long Honeymoon

10. Little Palaces

11. Radio Sweetheart/Jackie Wilson Said

12. God's Comic

13. All This Useless Beauty

14. Alison

Encore 1

15. Everyday I Write The Book

16. Veronica

17. I Want You

Encore 2

18. Shallow Grave

19. Watching The Detectives

20. Pump It Up

Encore 3

21. This House Is Empty Now

22. Almost Blue

23. God Give Me Strength

Encore 4

24. Oliver's Army

25. Shipbuilding

26. Could Call It Unexpected No.4

John: At the Melbourne show, Elvis was a real fighter, refusing to give in to whatever he was suffering from. His voice was very husky, and on many occasions he would cough away from the mic, between lines of a song. He really wanted to give a good concert to the audience, and soldiered on. This did mean that on some songs he didn't attempt some of the higher notes and instead dropped to a lower register. This gave a different interpretation to these songs. There were still some powerful moments, but they were fewer than when he was in full voice.

Some songs, however, were ideally suited to the huskiness, notably Almost Blue. Some did not fare so well, though. The crowd stayed throughout the whole performance, perceiving the effort that Elvis was making on stage, and rewarding him with enormous applause and ovations. Elvis really sang through his voice problem and after 6 to 8 songs his voice starting getting better and he sang with even more determination. He apologised several times, and commented that he hoped to return very soon. Little did we know just how soon that would be.

Everyone I spoke to after the concert all thought the same thing: that it was an amazing experience given by a true performer. In a survey of them, about 50% voted I Want You as their personal highlight. Steve was just unbelievable, as always - truly earning the title given him by Elvis of Professor.

I shook both Elvis' and Steve's hand during the encores, and scored a plectrum after the show.

31 January 1999, His Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide, Australia

Elvis finally had to give way to reality, and cancelled this show.

1 February 1999, Perth Concert Hall, Perth, Australia

Dave: Also cancelled, but not in time to prevent me making the 1000 km round trip from Albany to Perth. Although very disappointed, I at least had the memory of New Zealand. There was talk about the cancelled shows being rescheduled, but I thought this was about as unlikely as an Attractions reunion. Elvis’s schedule is so packed, why would he come all the way back from Japan to play two small cities. So I was stunned when we got confirmation of the rescheduled shows. He must have been really enjoying Oz, because he added on three more shows: another one in Melbourne and two more in Sydney. This obviously helped make the return trip worthwhile.

Australia, Phase 2

13 February 1999, Perth Concert Hall, Perth, Australia

1. Why Can’t a Man Stand Alone

2. Accidents Will Happen

3. Talking in the Dark

4. Party Girl

5. Toledo

6. Such Unlikely Lovers

7. (I Don’t Want to got to) Chelsea

8. Girls Talk

9. Temptation

10. Passionate Fight

11. Almost Blue

12. My Funny Valentine

13. (The Angels Want to Wear My) Red Shoes

14. This House is Empty Now

15. Pads Paws and Claws

16. Indoor Fireworks

17. Radio Sweetheart/Jackie Wilson Said

18. God’s Comic

19. All This Useless Beauty

20. Veronica

21. Alison (no medley)

22. Deep Dark Truthful Mirror

Encore 1

23. Shallow Graves

24. Detectives

25. Shipbuilding

Encore 2

26. I Still Have That Other Girl in my Head

27. God Give Me Strength

28. Couldn’t Call it Unexpected No. 4

Dave: It was a fabulous show – certainly the best concert I’ve seen. Elvis was happy and relaxed throughout. There was little sign of the sore throat that caused postponement of the show two weeks before. Elvis must have remarkably resilient vocal chords, because the tour of Japan really didn’t allow him much of a break, and he returned to give a vocal performance that thrilled the audience with its power and passion. It seemed a little fragile only on a couple of the quieter songs mid concert. And he couldn’t quite reach the top notes in Such Unlikely Lovers, but otherwise, he had the audience in raptures.

There was lots of good-humoured talking, and some unusual song choices (Passionate Fight, Girls Talk).

God Give Me Strength was particularly powerful and moving, with Elvis straining to reach the limits of his vocal and emotional range. Shipbuilding was also superb, with an extended, richly atmospheric ending, which infused the song with a more optimistic feel.

The highlight of the night for me was Couldn’t Call it Unexpected No. 4, with microphones were switched off. There is something quite magical about this trick. The song was somehow even more human and more intimate than the show had already been. It was a stunning conclusion to an amazing evening.

Afterwards, at the stage door Elvis was in a buoyant mood, his delight at the concert obvious. He remembered me from NZ, but didn’t accept an offered copy of Beyond Belief. His response, a friendly "No thanks, I live the life." He certainly does.

14 February 1999, Festival Theatre, Adelaide, Australia

1. Why Can't A Man Stand Alone

2. Accidents Will Happen/24 Hours From Tulsa

3. Talking In The Dark

4. Poor Fractured Atlas

5. Toledo

6. What's Her Name Today

7. (I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea

8. Girls Talk

9. Love Field

10. Man Out Of Time

11. Baby Plays Around

12. Red Shoes

13. Painted From Memory

14. This House Is Empty Now

15. Pads, Paws And Claws

16. Indoor Fireworks

17. Radio Sweetheart/Jackie Wilson Said

18. God's Comic

19. All This Useless Beauty

20. Veronica

Encore 1

21. Alison

22. My Funny Valentine

23. I Want You

Encore 2

24. Shallow Grave

25. Watching The Detectives

26. I Still Have That Other Girl

27. God Give Me Strength

28. Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4

John: A front row seat right so close that I could almost reach out and touch Elvis, made for a very intimate experience at the rescheduled Adelaide concert. Elvis was back to fine voice. Steve was very dapper in white shirt and black waistcoat.

The weather outside was hot, and inside Elvis and Steve were cooking too. The Adelaide crowd went berserk when he raced onto the stage. He joked, "It seems like only yesterday … that I should have been here."

The songs from Painted From Memory were the most impressive, Elvis's voice filling the theatre during them. All This Useless Beauty was, well, beautiful. There was great interplay between Elvis and Steve; they really looked like they were having a great time up there. At the end of Talking In The Dark, Steve went mad, and finished with Elvis laughing; he commented "I'll get out of the way of that." They cut the number of encores down to 2 but still provided us with 28 songs in all, which seemed a more sensible arrangement. There were standing ovations at numerous places, but handshakes for the crowd only at the very end.

Being Valentine's Day, Elvis joked that it was Hallmark Card Day, and appropriately played My Funny Valentine. During the God's Comic spoken interlude, God asked, "Isn't it bad enough that you have this group Hansen, without having to have this politician Hanson also," referring to a new red-neck politician in Australia.

In the introduction to Toledo, he told a new little story about visiting the Gents in Adelaide airport, and seeing a sign on the wall that said "Practice Safe Sex". Someone had crossed this out and written "Dear God, Don't commit adultery." Elvis was tickled by this.

There was an extended acoustic guitar "solo" fade out at the end of Chelsea, featuring distorted feedback. Elvis seemed to get a bit lost, and halted abruptly, laughing.

Being front row, during Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No.4 he was initially standing right in front of me. He sang beautifully.

But perhaps the best for me on the night was "another cheerful one": This House Is Empty Now.

16 February 1999, Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne , Australia

1. Why Can't A Man Stand Alone

2. Accidents Will Happen/24 Hours From Tulsa

3. Talking In The Dark

4. Poor Fractured Atlas

5. Toledo

6. In The Darkest Place

7. Girls Talk

8. Everyday I Write The Book

9. Baby Plays Around

10. Passionate Fight

11. Painted From Memory

12. This House Is Empty Now

13. Pads, Paws and Claws

14. Dirty Rotten Shame

15. Radio Sweetheart/Jackie Wilson Said

16. God's Comic

17. All This Useless Beauty

18. Veronica

19. Alison/Tracks Of My Tears/Tears Of A Clown/Clowntime Is Over

20. I Want You

Encore 1

21. Inch By Inch/Fever

22. Shallow Gave

23. Watching The Detectives

Encore 2

24. Any King's Shilling

25. Little Atoms

26. Shipbuilding

27. I Still Have That Other Girl

Encore 3

28. O Mistress Mine

29. God Give Me Strength

30. Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4

John: Elvis’ return to Melbourne, Victoria was greeted with a huge round of applause as he took the stage at a different venue. With his voice at full strength, he wanted to make amends for the previous concert. He asked if there was anybody who was at the Concert Hall show, and told us that he had a few surprises in store. We were treated to an amazing show of 30 songs.

Everyday I Write The Book was slow and delicate. Immediately after it, a girl called out "Beautiful", to which Elvis replied, "Do you think so? I thought it was a pile of shite." He called it his 10-minute song, which possibly confused some in the audience.

Several new or rare songs were played: Passionate Fight, Dirty Rotten Shame and O Mistress Mine. There were quite interesting to hear, but obviously did not have the polish of many of the other songs that Elvis and Steve have been performing often on stage, such as the Radio Sweetheart/Jackie Wilson Said sing-along come story telling epic.

Initially during this, the audience was rather low-key in their singing parts. "This is taking Victorian to extremes," Elvis jibed to evoke a greater response. "Next you’ll be getting out the cucumber sandwiches!" It had the desired effect, and from then on the audience was totally involved.

God’s Comic was another song that is performed flawlessly every night. On this occasion Elvis was singing to the audience, and unbeknownst to him, Steve was standing up and leanly inside his Steinway as he played and suddenly plucked one of the high strings inside it. This caught Elvis by surprise, making him laugh mid-song.

After a fine rendition of I Want You, always a crowd favourite, Elvis said that some people ask where the rhythm section is. He brought out a wind-up drumming toy, no doubt acquired during his recent time in Japan. He played it into the mike, and someone called out, "What about Bruce?" Elvis quipped back, "I said a rhythm section!" obviously still at odds with his old bass player.

The two standout performances for me were This House Is Empty Now, and a chilling version of Any King’s Shilling, to which Steve’s accompaniment was remarkable. The show was nicely rounded off with Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No. 4 sans microphone.

18 February 1999, Her Majesty's Theatre, Sydney, Australia

1. Why Can't A Man Stand Alone

2. Accidents Will Happen/24 Hours From Tulsa

3. Talking In The Dark

4. Poor Fractured Atlas

5. Toledo

6. What's Her Name Today

7. Girls Talk

8. Hand In Hand

9. I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea

10. Baby Plays Around

11. Passionate Fight

12. Just A Memory (stopped in the middle)

13. Painted From Memory

14. This House Is Empty Now

15. Pads, Paws and Claws

16. Dirty Rotten Shame

17. Radio Sweetheart/Jackie Wilson Said

18. God's Comic

19. All This Useless Beauty

20. Veronica

21. Alison

22. Deep Dark Truthful Mirror

Encore 1

23. Inch By Inch/Fever

24. Shallow Grave

25. Watching The Detectives

Encore 2

26. Unwanted Number

27. Almost Blue

28. I Want You

29. Shipbuilding

30. Peace, Love And Understanding

Encore 3

31. I Still Have That Other Girl

32. God Give Me Strength

33. Favourite Hour (sung without microphone)

John: The final two shows of the Australian tour were held in Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney. It was another intimate venue where nobody was far from the stage. Why Can’t A Man Stand Alone the standard opener for the second phase of the tour, got the show off to a great start. After establishing that many people in the audience had been at one of the previous Capitol shows, he promised to play some songs that we didn’t know, and even some that he and Steve didn’t know either.

He marvelled at how Australian audiences seemed to like the melancholy songs. I thought all his songs were melancholy. He said that when we left the theatre we would be given a badge of membership to the Melancholics Club, and we would meet again annually. Could this be a round-about way of saying that he would be coming back soon? We can only hope so.

During the "Adelaide" story introducing Toledo, Elvis embellished it a little. " ‘Dear God (comma), Don’t commit adultery’. (Aside: They might be sinners and murderers but they’ve got good punctuation.)"

Girls Talk was very enjoyable, immediately followed by a nice version of Hand In Hand. The song with music by Steve Nieve and words by Elvis, Passionate Fight, was played to enthusiastic response. A rough version of Just A Memory followed. Indeed, Steve and Elvis got out of synchronism and Elvis came in too early in one part and then tried to fit in again later, but it didn’t work, so he called out to Steve to stop right there. "See, I told you we didn’t know some of the songs." He certainly made amends with the next song Painted From Memory.

The song co-written with "Screaming Mac McCartney", Pads, Paws And Claws, was excellent. Dirty Rotten Shame was sung solo by Elvis. This song was recorded by Ronny Drew of the Dubliners, and is about a boxer would knocked out Cauliflower Ear O’Shea, and finds himself endlessly recounting the tale in the pub, when he would much rather be sitting quietly drinking his beer.

The first encore was a fine performance of Inch By Inch, with everyone joining in with the finger-popping. This was neatly combined with a brief excerpt from Fever.

A girl from the audience presented Elvis with a large bunch of red roses before encore number 2, which saw the airing of Unwanted Number, indeed a rarity. This was followed by a cavalcade of audience favourites: Almost Blue, I Want You and a particularly tender yet powerful Shipbuilding. He then strapped on his red "Girl" electric guitar, set the switch on it to "cruel setting" and delivered a rip-roaring Peace, Love And Understanding.

Encore 3 started with I Still Have That Other Girl, followed by God Give Me Strength. Then Elvis said that he wanted to come down and see us, signalling for his mic to be turned off. What followed was unexpected: it was not Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No. 4, but Favourite Hour. Steve later confirmed to me that this was the first time that he could remember them finishing with that song, sung without amplification. It certainly was a special moment.

After 32.5 songs (remember that they only played half of Just A Memory) the audience still wanted more, and Elvis didn’t want to leave either. Instead he brought out the wind-up toy and comically tried to get everyone to sing along with it.

19 February 1999, Her Majesty's Theatre, Sydney, Australia

(Recorded by JJJ radio station for later broadcast)

1. Temptation

2. Red Shoes (Steve Nieve on backing vocals)

3. Talking In The Dark

4. Love Field

5. Man Out Of Time

6. Toledo

7. My Thief

8. Girls Talk

9. I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea

10. Town Cryer

11. Baby Plays Around

12. Passionate Fight

13. Happy Birthday (to Steve Nieve)

14. Painted From Memory

15. The Other End Of The Telescope

16. This House Is Empty Now

17. Just About Glad

18. Mystery Dance

19. Indoor Fireworks

20. Radio Sweetheart/Jackie Wilson Said

21. God's Comic/Last Train To Clarkesville

22. All This Useless Beauty

23. Veronica

24. Alison

25. In The Darkest Hour

Encore 1

26. Inch By Inch/Fever

27. Shallow Grave

28. Watching The Detectives

29. Pump It Up/Subterranean Homesick Blues/Too Much Monkey Business

Encore 2

30. Everyday I Write The Book

31. Accidents Will Happen/24 Hours From Tulsa

32. I Still Have That Other Girl

33. God Give Me Strength

34. Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4

John: This was to be the last concert of the current tour, and Elvis and Steve were determined to make it a special, yet fun night. To signal this change, the opening song was changed to Steve’s re-arranged version of Temptation.

As an indication of the merriment up on stage, during Red Shoes Steve sang a few lines of backing vocals. Love Field and Man Out Of Time formed a magnificent combination of less commonly played songs. The latter of these was a standout for the night, with a spine-chilling vocal performance by Elvis.

After Chelsea, Elvis announced that the rest of the night was Ladies Night, to which a woman close to the stage called out, "Pucker up Elvis!" Town Cryer was the next surprise for us, and indeed it was something to almost cry about.

The audience then got to accompany Elvis in singing Happy Birthday to Steve. The excitement continued to build with Painted From Memory, The Other End Of The Telescope and This House Is Empty Now.

A change in mood was created as Steve left the stage, and Elvis launched into Just About Glad, followed by a delightful version of Mystery Dance. He brought the pace (and the place) down again with the best version of Indoor Fireworks that I have heard.

During God’s Comic, when Elvis sang "God bless and put out the light", the stage lighting dropped to an eerie blackness and Elvis let out an evil cackle. The remainder of the show consisted mainly of songs that Elvis and Steve have honed to perfection through numerous stage performances, showcasing what a fine duo they are. The closing number was the usual closer, Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No. 4, without microphone. What a magnificent way to end a truly incredible concert tour of Australia: Elvis singing with all his heart and soul directly to his audience. Neither side wanted it to finish.

I am left with a combination of joy and awe: joy from the great performances I attended, and awe at the absolute genius that I was privileged to witness.

* * *

Quotes and Comments from the Australian Tour

"a spellbinding two hours that transcended mere entertainment. … This is music that swings from the deepest shade of blue to the rapturously uplifting." Noel Mengel, The Courier-Mail, Brisbane (referring to the show on 25 Jan).

"It was a genuine pleasure to hear so many pop masterpieces presented in such a sophisticated, stripped-back manner." Dino Scatena, The Daily Telegraph, Sydney (27 Jan).

"There were no bad performances here, just degrees of greatness." Iain Shedden, The Australian (27 Jan).

"Costello delivered a thrilling vocal performance." Duncan Kimball (Jan 28).

"Elvis related how he was quizzed by God on his opinion of the relative coolness of Presley and Sinatra - Elvis's response being that ‘Frank might have eaten clams once in a while, but he sure as hell never sang about them.’" Duncan Kimball (Jan 28).

"They say that the best concerts are the ones when both the audience and performer connect in a special way, both feeding off the energy of each other. So it was Friday night. … It was apparent that he was not in the best of voice. … funnily enough, I think, everyone listened more intently, for the songs were running now on pure emotion." Daniel Deleo (Jan 29).

"You could have heard a tear drop as Elvis Costello sang his last number with neither his voice nor Steve Nieve’s piano amplified, strolling across the front of the stage like a comedian delivering a soliloquy. … Surprisingly for most, Costello is a great singer. His range and expression were extraordinary. … Elvis Costello is only now getting around to his finest work. Sure critics have been saying that for 20 years. But few could have imagined his talents as a performer reaching the same heights." Michael Dwyer, The West Australian, Perth (Feb 13).

"There is a masterful intuition between Costello and Nieve, each knowing when to add a flourish or a silence for maximum effect." David Sly, The Advertiser, Adelaide (Feb 14).

"In stunning voice and high humour, he plundered his extensive catalogue and we got the treasure." Ian Bell, Rip It Up, Adelaide (Feb 14).

"The best concert I've ever been to." Matthew Riddle (Feb 16).

"Although Elvis Costello is hardly your typical sexy performer I have rarely seen so many people with post-coital expressions after a concert." Paul Inglis (Feb 19).

About Steve Nieve

"Nieve was a revelation throughout, effortlessly mixing classical technique with funky rock'n'roll piano, sometimes in the course of a few bars." Noel Mengel, The Courier-Mail, Brisbane (25 Jan).

"Nieve frequently impressed. It was as if he was single-handedly taking responsibility for replacing a whole darn symphony orchestra and two remaining Attractions." George Huitker (27 Jan).

"Nieve masterfully created the dynamics on the keys. The former Attraction, given that he had to act as the foundation and the melodic counterpoint to his partner, occasionally crossed the line into Rachmaninovian melodrama (although he looked more like John Cale) but his arrangements were assured and powerful." Iain Shedden, The Australian (27 Jan).

"But though Costello and his songs were ultimately the stars of the evening, Nieve was the revelation. His baroque excursions around and across the melody line were a highlight, his constant small inventions making every turn an unexpected and delightful surprise." Jon Casimir, Sydney Morning Herald (27 Jan).

" ‘Accompanied’ doesn't really begin to describe the brilliance of Nieve's playing." Duncan Kimball (Jan 28).

"Nieve supplied not just the underlying beats and melodies but the points of return and departure for Costello who, like us, stepped back to listen to Nieve." Michael Grau (Feb 13).


Dave Pannell's Elvis Costello Page
Copyright © David J. Pannell, 2009
Last revised: March 30, 2009.