Elvis Costello and his all star band The Sugarcanes played their first ever Irish gig on July 1st. It was also Costello's first Dublin gig since he stopped living here in Ireland some years ago. It was one of those gigs where it was hard to decide who enjoyed themselves more Elvis and the band or the audience. The Sugarcanes include many of the players who were on Costello's most recent album Secret, Profane & Sugercane. They are all amazing players and have their own projects but on the night Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Jerry Douglas on dobro and vocals, Mike Compton on mandolin and vocals, Jim Lauderdale on guitar and vocals, Dennis Crouch on double bass and Jeff Taylor on accordion and tin whistle were inspiring. Elvis played acoustic and four string electric guitar and song better than I've heard him in a long time. All of which gave them the scope to play whatever they wanted to, and much of what they played was spontaneous and a departure from the set list and all the more powerful for it.
The set included many songs from that aforementioned most recent album. Complicated Shadows, Hidden Shame, The Crooked Line and what was supposed to be the final song Sulphar To Sugarcane, which Elvis said was his I've Been Everywhere travel song, all sounded more at home on the stage than on the album. The set proper was followed by an extended encore which was, in turn, followed by a few more songs. Much to the delight of the enthralled gathering of friends and fans. Songs from his vast back catalogue included Alison, Red Shoes, Everyday I Write The Book, America Without Tears and Mystery Dance - songs which span his entire output but which easily adapted to this acoustic setting and gained a new perspective in their retelling.
Opening with Mystery Train outside songs chosen also included two George Jones associated songs The Race Is On and A Good Year For The Roses, which had excellent harmony vocalist Jim Lauderdale right up there with Elvis, both singing their hearts out. The Rolling Stone's Happy, The Grateful Dead's Friend Of The Devil, Rockpile's Girl's Talk, Nick Lowe's What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding were all included and delivered to the delight of the audience who sang along on many occasions.
There were also some new songs, including one recently co-written by Jim Lauderdale and Elvis. Another, new to me, song was about a vauderville entertainer who was playing cowboy songs about which Elvis joked that "there's never a good time to go into cowboy music". What ever the song and what ever the mood the song required here was a band who could deliver on that and make it look easy... and fun. Between songs Elvis joked with the audience, talked about the World Cup and how when they played support to Paul McCartney in Hyde Park England still had a chance to win. That was not to be, but this team played a blinder.
It was one of those magical gigs where the venue was right, the sound was right, the band was on top form and the entertainer did what he set out to do - he entertained and then some. It was a welcome return to Dublin... from both sides of the stage.