Elvis Costello: ‘Secret & Profane’ in NYC


Elvis Costello celebrated the release of his new album, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, Tuesday night with a rare solo acoustic show at an Irish dive bar in lower Manhattan for a liquored-up crowd of 150 or so radio contest winners and adoring fans.

The New Wave era’s most talented and prolific songwriter set the tone for his 10-tune set by quoting advice his bandleader father gave him many years ago: “He said to imagine your name on the magical marquee of Carnegie Hall…. But he never said that I’d see it hanging above the liquor license at the magnificent pub called Jim Brady’s!”

And there it was, the name “Elvis Costello” hastily printed beside the Irish flag thumbtacked to the bar’s doorway, and below the calendar featuring photos of swarthy soccer stars whose surnames began with Mc or Mac.

Then Costello, the Brit who three decades ago audaciously changed his name from Declan McManus to Elvis and quit his computer programming job to write songs full time, launched into “Complicated Shadows,” a tune about murder and redemption he had penned for Johnny Cash in the ’90s but recently cut with producer T-Bone Burnett for Secret, Profane. “I always wanted to record the version I heard in my head,” he explained.

Alone on the tiny stage, strumming only a Martin acoustic guitar and singing from a whisper to a scream, Costello worked his way through eight more tunes from the record, including several originally written for an unproduced opera about Danish fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen (The Ugly Duckling,The Little Mermaid).

Introducing the song “She Handed Me a Mirror,” Costello explained that Andersen became rich and famous but “didn’t fall in love easily… because he was ugly. Really ugly.”Then he sang the heartbreaking lyric of the (ugly) man who didn’t get the girl: “She handed me a mirror / So I could recognize / The distance from my heart to hers / The pity in her eyes.”

When asked if he and Burnett had really recorded the entire album in just three days, Costello joked: “If it only takes 45 minutes to listen to an album, shouldn’t it only take 45 minutes to record it?” Then he added, “But I’ve be working on some of the songs for more than 15 years.”

He declined to play the hits the crowd kept shouting for (“Alison” and “Watching the Detectives” led the catcalls). “That’s for another show,” Costello mumbled. But he repeatedly revved up his fans with ribald humor. At one point, he followed up the lyric “I’ve given up romancing married women” with the improvised “but these New York City ladies make me want to change my mind.”

Answering questions after the set, Costello talked about working with country legend Loretta Lynn: “She’s a funny lady. Once she said, ‘We should write a song called “Thank God for Jesus Christ!”‘

And asked which dead person he would most like to author a song with, Costello said, “Shakespeare. I hear he’s a pretty good writer.”

It was a fitting end to a show by pop music’s winking master lyricist — part Bob Dylan, part Cole Porter. All Declan McManus.

More photos after the jump!

Elvis Costello / Photo by Eric Nowels

Elvis Costello / Photo by Eric Nowels

Elvis Costello / Photo by Eric Nowels

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