Concert Reviews

Over The Weekend: Elvis Costello With The Dallas Symphony Orchestra at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center

Elvis Costello with the DSO
Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center
May 28, 2009

Better than:
tuning in the shine on the light night dial doing anything your radio advised.

There wasn't a lot of room for the 55-year-old Elvis Costello to gallivant about on stage at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center on Friday night--no, there were simply too many other players and instruments strewn about for that.

But the clutter was certainly justified: These weren't just any players and instruments impeding Costello's movements on this night; rather, in addition to being surrounded by members of his current backing band, The Sugarcanes, Costello was flanked by members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, who, in anticipation of the performer's two-night run at the Meyerson this past weekend, had taken up the task of learning symphonic arrangements of the icon's greatest hits.

And, no surprise here, their efforts were not in vain: Over the course of a two-hour performance (complete with an intermission halfway through the set), Costello, his Sugarcanes and the DSO wowed the not-quite-sold -out-but-reverent-nonetheless room with impressive ease.

A once-in-a-lifetime showcase? In premise, almost certainly. In practice, without a doubt.

Costello has endured and aged brilliantly over the course of his 33-year recording career, transitioning from proto-New Waver to soul act to to classical composer to country artist and back (and forward again) with remarkable ease, and, on this night, while often referencing his classical dalliances in the early '90s with the Brodsky Quartet, Costello proved himself still more than capable of comfortably performing in any of those realms.

Of course, given the players sharing the stage with him at this performance, the night leaned most heavily on his classical persuasion. And the DSO left little room for complaints on this night--except, perhaps, that its showing impeded any real opportunity for Costello to proverbially "rock out."

Still, Costello, ever the showman (and confident speaker, no doubt part of what makes him such a compelling television host as well), dazzled. He shared the anecdotes behind the inspirations for most of his songs, credited the arrangers who allowed his music to be performed by this orchestra and charmed, teased and flirted with the audience all along--giving them, really, all their money's worth, and perhaps more.

The highlights, sure enough, were plentiful--"Shipbulding," "My Three Sons," "The Girl In The Other Room," "My Flame Burns Blue," "She," "God Give Me Strength," "I Still Have That Other Girl," "Allison," "Alison," "Couldn't Call It unexpected, No. 4" and even a new song called "Kairos" among them--as Costello, sometimes performing with his acoustic guitar (which, along with his microphone, were the only amplified pieces on stage, if only lightly) and sometimes not, shimmied slightly in place and leaned over the crowd, making eye contact with his audience, who sat in their seats unsure of whether to foot-tap or stand and dance or what.

Their confusion was fair--and eventually, moot. No, this was not a rock show--but by night's end, it felt like one. Each of the final four songs performed this night elicited standing ovations from crowd. Not just because they were tired of sitting, though--but, rather, because Costello and the DSO performing together more than merited such appreciation.

So perhaps it was a bit surprising, then, that the night's biggest crowd-pleaser didn't feature the DSO playing at all.

With but a few songs remaining in the performance, Costello, eschewed his microphone (which, in fairness, he barely needed at all in such an acoustically sound room) and stepped out to the stage's edge for a folk ditty called "Slow Drag With Josephine," which Costello described as "what rock 'n' roll sounded like in 1921" and saw the crowd hooting and laughing along with the performer.

Odd for the biggest moment of the night to come without the DSO's aid? Perhaps. But, let's face it, they were but supporting players on this eve. Costello, as ever, was its biggest star.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
I, along with most, appreciate Costello to all ends, but most prefer his late '70s and early '80s efforts. Still, it's tough not to appreciate a man who has so effortlessly transitioned from genre to genre and sound to sound. This night only reinforced this stance--although it was a little off or me personally. Having never before seen Costello perform live (I know, I know), I would've preferred not to have popped my cherry in this formal setting, but in a more traditional rock 'n' roll environment. But seeing him in this environment, perhaps, helped me appreciate his talents even more than another setting might have.

Random Note: This was also my first time in the Meyerson. Quite the gem we've got there, Dallas. Place is gorgeous--and it sounds absolutely flawless, no surprise.

By The Way:  After Costello, the Sugarcanes and the DSO, the biggest star of the night was the man sitting in the front row, on the far left side of the middle section--if only because he simply could not contain his amusement. He beamed, grimaced and twitched with glee--and started pretty much every standing ovation--which was surprising if only because he appeared, throughout the night, more likely to fall to the ground, faint, than to spring to his legs with joy.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman