Elvis Costello Concludes 10-Night NYC Residency: Review
Elvis Costello has been working for more than 40 years to play the set lists he wants.
In 1977, when he appeared on Saturday Night Live, he changed the song his label wanted him to play to one he wanted to play mid-performance. The move led to him being banned from the show for over a decade. But now at 68, Costello has more than earned the right to play whatever he wants onstage, and for the past 10 nights in New York City, he's fervently exercised that right by performing over 200 songs from across his catalog during his residency at the Gramercy Theatre.
The last of these performances took place Wednesday night with the full Imposters band — keyboardist Steve Nieve, drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Davey Faragher — plus guitarist Charlie Sexton, a member of Bob Dylan's group.
"Welcome to night ... 10?" Costello said somewhat cautiously, as though he couldn't quite believe the final night had arrived. The last set included classics songs like "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea" and "Pump It Up," plus plenty of gems for deep-cut fans: "Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No. 4" from 1991's Mighty Like a Rose and "Either Side of the Same Town" from 2004's The Delivery Man.
You can see the set list below.
At the opening of the residency on Feb. 9, Costello joked that "this is not the Bruce Springsteen show, by the way," a cheeky nod to the Boss' Broadway series, but also a reminder that this wasn't just a parade of songs and stories. The residency was for fans who know Costello's catalog inside and out. Some even bought tickets for all 10 nights of the run. "We're all going to go around later and borrow money from them," Costello quipped at the closing.
Costello's set choices throughout the residency reached back to his debut album, 1977's My Aim Is True, and spanned up to The Songs of Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach, which comes out on March 3. Songs from almost every one of his albums were played, as were choice covers and various unreleased cuts.
Curating 10 nights of set lists from a career with such breadth is an audacious act; there has to be faith that the audience will stay with you through every turn. "I don't know how many songs we've played," he said. "It doesn't really matter as long as you don't hear anything you like."
When performing solo, with nothing more than an amplified acoustic guitar, Costello sounded a bit vulnerable at times, as the vibrato in his voice — which he has ascribed to a heart murmur — starkly stood out. At the opening of the residency, his performance of "Alison" - one of the few songs played twice during the run - displayed this full force. Wednesday night, with a full band behind him, his delivery was stronger, completed by a touch of his famous Liverpudlian sneer.
In some ways, a 10-night residency featuring an extensive amount of deep cuts could turn off fans who aren't as familiar with the catalog: You go for "Watching the Detectives" but get "Weird Nightmare" instead. Forty-plus years later, Costello played the shows he wanted. He's earned that.
It's fitting that he opened the final set of his residency with "Radio, Radio," the song he decided to play against his label's wishes on SNL in 1977 and one that helped cement his reputation as an artist bound and determined to create a career all his own. "I wanna bite the hand that feeds me / I wanna bite that hand so badly" still rings true.
Near the end of the show, as Costello faced the conclusion of his 10-night residency, he announced, "We've run out of songs." But there's hope for future installments: "I'll have to write some more," he said as cheers filled the theater.
Elvis Costello, Gramercy Theater, New York, 2/22/23
1. "Radio Radio"
2. "Green Shirt"
3. "American Gangster Time"
4. "Hetty O’Hara Confidential"
5. "Either Side of the Same Town"
6. "The Death of Magic Thinking"
7. "New Lace Sleeves"
8. "The Boy Named If"
9. "Everyday I Write the Book"
10. "Tipsy Woman"
11. "Penelope Halfpenny"
13. "Newspaper Pane"
14. "Lipstick Vogue"
15. "Watching the Detectives"
16. "Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No. 4"
17. "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror"
18. "The Man You Love to Hate"
20. "Mistook Me for a Friend"
21. "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea"
22. "What If I Can’t Give You Anything But Love?"
23. "Man Out of Time"
24. "Farewell, OK"
26. "Magnificent Hurt"
27. "Pump It Up"
28. "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding"
29. "I Want You"