Natalie Paisey reviews Elvis Costello, Festival of Voice, Wales Millennium Centre

June 20, 2018 by

The Donald Gordon Theatre played host to New Wave icon Elvis Costello and The Imposters in the closing act of The Festival of Voice, in a gig that spanned his forty-year legacy as a singer-song writer.

Costello – with long-term collaborators (and Attractions members) Steve ‘The Prof’ Niev on keys (an astonishing performance) and Pete Thomas on drums (full of Sheffield steel), as well as Davey Faragher on guitar and backing singers Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee – entertains a packed auditorium of stalwart fans with a set that includes many of his best-known songs.  He opens (perhaps acknowledging of the aims of this year’s festival of promoting the female voice) with Wonder Womanthen Girls Talk before preparing the audience “to go down deep” and dropping the register into a bluesy Tears Before Bedtime.

Costello playfully admits he is“over forty-two now” and has“lived pretty hard”, and at times his voice betrays this, falling a little flat in parts, his drawling vibrato a little more distinctive. He retains, however, his profound ability to imbue his words with genuinely rich emotion. And the crowd love it, nodding along (these seated gigs often threaten to keep people rooted in their chairs) to the reggae beat of I Don’t Want to go to Chelsea, thenShabby Doll, Watching the Detectives (the front man lit in effulgent green) before Costello, sometimes singing into a 1950’s style radio mic, offers You Shouldn’t Look At Me That Way, Country Darkness, Monkey To Man, the energy increasing, nearly lifting people to their feet forEvery Day I Write The Bookand Pump It Upbefore a brief intermission.

The Donald Gordon Theatre is an interesting space, as if moulded by the movement of sound over its surfaces, stratified like the intricate internal layers of a termite mound. It is a space built for opera and orchestral performance, engineered to support a natural sound, sensitively designed to carry a solo voice (Billy Bragg, Patty Smith cases in point). Costello, however, brought in extra speakers, aiming for a big stadium vibe.  They can be accused of overpowering the auditorium, of certainly overpowering Costello’s voice at times.  Indeed, it was the more intimate moments with Costello on guitar either flanked by singers or with Niev athletically navigating the piano that were the most satisfying, allowing Costello’s singular voice the space to show its texture. Here were the highlights of the night: Alyson, Accidents Will Happen(met with rapturous applause), an unbelievable piano solo in Talking In The Dark, climaxing toOliver’s Army, Costello and Niev demonstrating every bit of knowledge and wisdom garnered over their illustrious careers.

With rousing renditions of She,Diving For Pearls(Costello walking to the edge of the stage to peer through thick frames at the audience), a nod to dads on Father’s Day with Three Sons, and then the band’s return to the stage for (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding, Waiting For The End Of The World, Less Than Zero, the evening ends on the rather melancholic I Want You. It’s a rather sombre final track but its lyrics of fixation, of wants and needs parallels what is undeniably Costello’s persistence and passion to perform.

This is a fitting finale to the Festival of Voice; an eleven-day event that opening performer Billy Bragg predicts will become a major fixture in the summer festival circuit. We look forward to its return.


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