Elvis Costello’s richly rewarding ‘Detour’ to Town Hall via Donald Trump

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(Elvis at Town Hall. Photo by Chalkie Davies)

The enduring image of Elvis Costello following his triumphant Detour concert Saturday night (Oct. 1) at Town Hall was of the beloved entertainer holding up a guitar like a trophy, as if he’d just magically pulled it out of his hat, or if he had been playing piano, standing up in proud acknowledgement of his SRO crowd’s standing ovation, as if he’d just pulled his intact head out of a lion’s mouth.

The Detour tour is sort of an extension of his Unfaithful music & Disappearing Ink book tour of last year, in which he retold stories from his memoir interspersed with related songs played on acoustic guitar. While most of it is again played solo on a dozen or so acoustic and electric guitars—except for the piano songs—he does bring out Larkin Poe’s Rebecca and Megan Lovell to back him effectively in the latter part of the show on vocals and guitar/mandolin and lapsteel respectively.

And like the Spectacular Spinning Songbook shows of 1986 and the recent Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook tours, Costello also employed a significant prop: a giant TV set, which programmed old Elvis photos, videos, artwork, even a fab clip of his dad Ross McManus, a trumpet player and big band singer, singing the Trini Lopez version of “If I Had a Hammer” with England’s Joe Loss Orchestra. For “Watching the Detectives,” the TV screened film noir movie posters, book jackets and even album covers behind him; “Everyday I Write the Book” was accompanied by a funny photo of young Elvis signing a notepad with a three-foot long pen.

Unfaithful Music was further evoked with autobiographical stories, like the one about first working with Allen Toussaint on the 1984 Yoko Ono tribute album Every Man Has a Woman–for which he produced Elvis’s contribution “Walking on Thin Ice,” then mysteriously said, “Elvis, will you help with the broccoli?” No, Elvis explained, it wasn’t some strange New Orleans musicians’ code, but a request to accompany him on a mission to pick up some actual broccoli.

Otherwise, the songs spanned Elvis’s career, high points including an especially powerful “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror” (at the piano), “Blame it on Cain” and “Nothing Clings Like Ivy” (both backed by Larkin Poe). He tossed in, too, “Little White Lies,” a 1930s pop standard covered by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, which he sang on a porch chair and into an enormous megaphone.

But several new songs from his current project, a musical version of A Face in the Crowd–the 1957 film about a charismatic hillbilly drifter who fraudulently becomes a national radio and TV sensation, which proved a career breakthrough for Andy Griffith–really stood out, most memorably “Blood and Hot Sauce,” and “American Mirror,” which sounds like it could be the show’s big “11 o’clock number.”

Another new piano song from the musical, maybe “Burn the Paper Down to Ash,” brought one of many references to Donald Trump.

“Speak the unspeakable and think the unthinkable–into the wee hours of the morning,” Elvis said in reference to Trump’s now infamous early morning tweetstorm of the day before, in which he attacked former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. Elvis also suggested that the central character of A Face in the Crowd was indeed the devil, and noted how the plot dealt with how he manages to exploit the media in peddling lies and “hooking up with politicians.”

For the record, Elvis first took on Trump at least as far back as 1986, when he did a bit about the “sin of Trump” during his first Spectacular Spinning Songbook shows on Broadway. When I saw him in concert with the Imposters in Madison, Wisconsin last summer, he made mention of “15 clowns and one big red one” in an aside about the Republican debates.

He ended traditionally at Town Hall with “(What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” (with Larkin Poe), then encored appropriately with another new A Face in the Crowd song, “The Last Word.” Deeply knowledgeable Elvis fans would have recognized one poignant tribute on the big TV monitor: a photo of a smiling Milo Lewis, Elvis’s invaluable longtime production manager, who passed away unexpectedly earlier this year.

6 thoughts on “Elvis Costello’s richly rewarding ‘Detour’ to Town Hall via Donald Trump

  • October 19, 2016 at 9:49 am
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    For God’s sake spare us the politics! We look to music as an escape from this madness. When you consider the criminal way HRC shut Sanders down, handled Benghazi, humiliated a 12 yr old rape victim, excepted millions of dollars from Middle East countries that kill and imprison homosexuals, just about anyone looks like a viable alternative.

  • October 19, 2016 at 11:52 am
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    Don’t know or care what you do but really, you should stick to comments only about your job.

  • October 19, 2016 at 12:15 pm
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    Very odd reply, not sure why comments about my job be of any interest. I was simply stating that as a lifelong fan of EC, I would much rather he steer clear of politics… particularly, this, of all years.

  • October 21, 2016 at 12:55 pm
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    Didn’t come across that way. Came across as a lot of “fans” of artists, usually right-wing fans of liberal artists, who don’t think they should make comments, always liberal, in concert about anything political, ie, shouldn’t express liberal opinions. If that were the case, I was carrying it over how everyone should be discouraged from speaking out on anything that isn’t work-related.

    I will add that particularly this, of all years, is the right time for EC or anyone else to speak up.

  • October 21, 2016 at 1:50 pm
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    I’d be just as miffed if I paid to go to a concert to hear an artist rattle on about Trump or any other candidates. They are entertainers not political campaign staffers. Too often musicians and actors espouse their opinions as if the fans are clamoring for some shred of enlightenment. Clearly we know their take on things through the music and interviews, but hearing additional political drivel at a concert we pay to attend seems rude. We come for the live music and the fun that comes with taking a short detour from our daily
    grind. I don’t think it’s too much to ask an entertainer to recognize that some in the audience aren’t lining up to be indoctrinated into their way of thinking is all.

  • October 24, 2016 at 10:43 am
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    I’m sure they recognized that, but a concert ticket is not a contract. I, for one, am glad to hear my favorite artists speak out against Trump, racism, bigotry, sexism, injustice, any time. I can assure you that there were no boos, no walkouts, nothing at all negative in the crowd reaction to EC at Town Hall, though there was one heckler who yelled out that he should not boycott Israel. And in no way did Elvis stop the show for politics, he merely cleverly let everyone know where he stood via Trump–as he and every artist has every right to do on stage or off. You can like it or lump it as you may.

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