Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello Join Forces in Must-See Musical Pairing

By Regis Behe; Michael Machosky | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, October 11, 2007 | Go to article overview

Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello Join Forces in Must-See Musical Pairing


Regis Behe; Michael Machosky, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


It's an ingenious pairing, having two of the best songwriters on the planet on the same bill. But the double bill of Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello tonight at the Petersen Events Center is also a bit strange.

It's something the late, legendary promoter Bill Graham -- who paired Jefferson Airplane with Jimi Hendrix, Albert King with the Band -- would do. Or maybe director David Lynch is booking concerts now, casting Dylan as a musical Methuselah to Costello's cheeky Brit.

This much is for certain: Costello, performing solo, will probably look around the Pete, make some acerbic remarks about the acoustics, and then sing his heart out. With Dylan, live performances are less certain. When he's on, there are few that are better. When he's off ... well, at least you're in the presence of a legend.

-- Regis Behe

ELVIS COSTELLO

Mellower, but still rockin'

He emerged as the original angry young man, his performances notable for their energy and vitriol. But over the years Elvis Costello has emerged as one of his generation's finest songwriters and performers -- and he's mellowed considerably. His earliest albums, notably "My Aim Is True" and "This Year's Model," remain some of the most literate and compelling of the late 1970s. Costello's work in the 1990s, notably efforts with Burt Bacharach and Allen Toussaint, indicate his continuing evolution as an artist. Live, he is still one of the best bargains in the industry, industrious and energetic, never giving less than his best effort. And in a nod to fashion, Costello always wears a suit onstage.

Origins

Costello came to prominence in the United States during a "Saturday Night Live" appearance Dec. 17, 1977. As the band started "Less Than Zero," Costello yelled, "Stop! Stop!" and said, "I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, there's no reason to do this song here." He then launched into "Radio, Radio." The incident remains one of the most memorable musical moments in "SNL" history, and while it caused American television networks to shy away from booking Costello for years, the appearance did boost his profile stateside.

High points

There are many: From the brilliance of the albums "This Year's Model," "King of America" and "Trust," to the continued excellence of his live shows. If you had to single out one professional moment, it might be the induction of Costello and the Attractions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. No one could have foreseen the mercurial, geeky-looking guy with glasses becoming one of his generation's best songwriters and performers.

But all those things pale to Costello's greatest achievement: Snagging the wondrous beauty Diana Krall as his wife.

Low points

Undoubtedly, the worst were the racist slurs Costello spewed at a Holiday Inn near Columbus, Ohio, in March 1979, during a spat with Stephen Stills. Drunk, Costello and his bandmates told Stills they'd come to America "to take your money and your women" before using a racial epithet to describe James Brown and Ray Charles.

Ironically, this might have been the turning point in Costello's career. In "Complicated Shadows: The Life and Music of Elvis Costello," author Graeme Thomson writes about how the incident spurred Costello to re-evaluate his use of alcohol and drugs.

Notable collaborations

Paul McCartney, Anne Sofie van Otter, the Brodsky Quartet, Bill Frisell, Allen Toussaint, the Charles Mingus Orchestra, T-Bone Burnett. Even a collaboration with middle-of-road songwriter Burt Bacharach turned into a worthy venture by way of Costello's impassioned interpretations of Bacharach's work.

Last appearance in Pittsburgh

July 24, 2005, with the Imposters and Emmylou Harris at the Chevrolet Amphitheatre in Station Square. Despite temperatures more fit for shorts and a T-shirt, Costello came out in a suit and wowed the audience with a mix of his older material -- "Radio, Radio. …

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