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Elvis Costello, Night One: ‘Still Got A Long Way To Go’

Costello kicked off his 10-night sprint at the Gramercy with a tribute to Burt Bacharach, pre-1978 cuts, and possibly the one and only time this week he'll play "Alison"
Elvis Costello
Credit: Adela Loconte

Elvis Costello is performing more than 200 songs from his vast catalog over the course of a 10-show residency at the Gramercy Theater in New York from Feb. 9-22. Costello superfan (and comedian) Connor Ratliff will bring us the highlights from every night of the historic run.

Elvis Costello’s 10-night stand at the Gramercy Theater in New York is titled “100 Songs and More,” but when you dig into the fine print, you will immediately realize that the “and More” includes an additional 100+ songs. Anyone else would’ve called it “200 Songs and More,” but one of the great things about Elvis Costello is that his version of “more” is more than just about anybody else’s.

The first 10 songs selected for each show have been announced in advance, with the remainder of his choices — “and at least 10 more!” — to be unveiled nightly, before (as they say) our very eyes.

For a greedy Costello fan like myself, one’s mind can’t help but momentarily fixate on the 400+ that will fail to make an appearance during this extremely ambitious run. This isn’t a complaint, but simply a reminder of an astonishing fact: the man has written so many songs that he would need to do 20 more shows to get close to exhausting his personal repertoire of musical compositions.

I’ve been a fan since my senior year of high school, at which point Costello was already nearly a decade-and-a-half into his career as a recording artist.  He had already tackled countless genres and collaborated with Paul McCartney. The artist born Declan MacManus was practically an elder statesman of pop music before he’d even hit middle age. To put it in perspective, Costello could have booked the Gramercy in 1993 and easily done these 10 concerts using only the songs he’d written up to that time.

I knew when these shows were announced that I had to see all 10, not only because I wanted to but also because I knew that if I didn’t, the “me” of 1993 would never forgive myself. I’ve been lucky enough to see Costello in concert 30 times over the course of three decades, and the whole time I’ve been waiting for something this exhaustive — a real deep dive into his back catalog where beloved live staples like “Alison” and “Watching The Detectives” (both excellent songs) get one shot and then disappear, making room for rarely heard gems like “Hoover Factory,” “Sleep of the Just,” and “All Grown Up.”

Do I have a wish list? Of course I do. It is an unreasonable list, admittedly, and if even one of these songs makes it to the stage at Gramercy, I will be over the moon.

“Almost Ideal Eyes” (written for – but never recorded by — the late David Crosby)
“American Without Tears 1 & 2”
“The Bridge I Burned”
“Bright Blue Times”
“Charm School”
“Chewing Gum”
“Coal-Train Robberies”
“The Difference” (my favorite track from 2022’s The Boy Named If, yet to be played live in North America)
“The Element Within Her”
“Everyone’s Playing House”
“The Fall of the World’s Own Optimist” (w/special surprise guest, co-writer Aimee Mann)
“The Flirting Kind”
“Georgie and her Rival”
“The Great Unknown”
“Harpies Bizarre”
“Harry Worth”
“Heathen Town”
“How To Be Dumb”
“I Throw My Toys Around”
“Impatience” (Never before played in concert, and I wonder why not? It’s such a fun song!)
“The Invisible Man”
“Just Another Mystery”
“King of Thieves”
“Mouth Almighty”
“Mr. & Mrs. Hush”/”Mr. Crescent”/”Mr. Feathers” (MEDLEY)
“My Brave Face”/”My Science Fiction Twin”/”My Mood Swings”/”My Thief”/”My Little Blue Window”/”My Flame Burns Blue”/”My Three Sons”/”My All Time Doll”/”My Lovely Jezebel”/”My New Haunt”/”My Most Beautiful Mistake” (MEDLEY)
“Party Party” (this is Costello’s big chance to spotlight– and possibly even salvage — his self-proclaimed “worst song”)
“Pretty Words”
“Taking My Life in Your Hands” (I’ve always thought this Juliet Letters song would sound great with just voice & guitar)
“This Is a Test” (will he play the ONLY Wendy James song whose demo has never leaked? He played it ONCE a few years back!)
“Under Lime”
“Walk Us Uptown”
“What’s Her Name Today?”
“White Knuckles”
“Worthless Thing”
“You Hung the Moon”

I’m going to be updating this article after every show, night-by-night, so I’m assuming that at least a few of my own predictions and assumptions will be upended by events along the way. Costello has spent his entire career defying expectations and thwarting the predictions of people much brighter than I. Nobody would’ve expected him to follow up his most recent, Grammy-nominated Imposters LP (the stunning The Boy Named If) with the recording debut of his teenage folk duo Rusty (reuniting with Allan Mayes 50 years later to make The Resurrection of Rust EP), so it would be foolish to try to anticipate whatever is going to happen next, beyond that it will likely be both ambitious and impressive.

There will be surprises, omissions, revisions, revelations, and transformations as he delves into his massive oeuvre with gusto, most likely putting as much thought and consideration into these nightly setlists as the most obsessive Costello fan attempting to make a list of their Top 200 Costello songs. Warning: it is harder than you think. I have a Spotify playlist called “Elvis Costello Anytime” that was intended to be just the Costello songs I’m never not in the mood to hear. I just counted and, including “local files*,” I was only able to pare it down to a lean 289 songs.

*mp3s on my device, rare/unreleased or simply not currently available to stream.

Okay, here we go.  

NIGHT ONE: “Still Got a Long Way To Go”
Thursday, Feb. 9th – Elvis Costello Solo – Night One

“Welcome to the Working Week”
“Miracle Man”
“Hoover Factory”
“(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”
“Stranger in the House”
“I Can’t Turn It Off”
“Sneaky Feelings”
“Imagination (Is a Powerful Deceiver)”
“Living in Paradise”
“Baby It’s You”
“Poison Moon”
“Dupree’s Diamond Blues”
“Wave a White Flag”
“I’m Not Angry”
“Anyone Who Had a Heart”
“Radio Sweetheart / Jackie Wilson Said”
“Mystery Dance”
“Mr. Moon”
“No Dancing”
“Cheap Reward”

“Please Stay”
“(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding”

The pre-announced setlist for Night One indicated that the evening would be devoted to pre-1978 material — songs from his debut album, My Aim Is True, and a few others that were recorded later or eventually came out as bonus tracks on various CD reissues. Additionally, there would be a few covers of other people’s songs that were an early influence on him, including three presumably late-breaking additions due to the unfortunate news of the day (more on that in a second).

For the casual Costello concert-goer, an alert: there is a chance this could be the only appearance of “Alison” at any of these shows. One of my first Costello bootleg cassettes was of a 1984 show in Los Angeles that was rendered nearly unlistenable by an audience member yelling, “Ali-sonnnnnn!” throughout the entire event, and then screaming her head off during the whole song when he finally played it. Of course, I could be wrong and perhaps it will turn up again in the Gramercy encores on other nights. Anything is possible, especially if that woman from L.A. 1984 is in attendance.

The excitement surrounding opening night was tempered by the sad news that Burt Bacharach had passed away the day before at the age of 94. His decades-long songwriting partnership with Costello (about to be celebrated with the release of a deluxe box set, The Songs of Bacharach & Costello, out March 3) has produced some of the most emotionally riveting songs of either man’s entire career, earning the duo a Grammy in 1998 for their song “I Still Have That Other Girl.” The collaboration was again featured on Costello’s Grammy-winning Look Now in 2018, with a trio of songs intended for Broadway that have yet to make it there (their long-in-development stage adaption of Painted From Memory and a hoped-for Austin Powers musical are a cautionary message to aspiring playwrights that even the involvement of two legendary songwriters is no guarantee that you will make it past workshops and on to out-of-town previews).

Costello performed “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” on the Live Stiffs tour in 1977, at precisely the moment when it might’ve been dismissed as “easy listening” by the crowds in attendance, expecting songs of “revenge & guilt” like “Lipstick Vogue” and “No Action.” The juxtaposition between that Bacharach/Hal David number and tunes from the freshly-recorded This Year’s Model showed that there wasn’t much daylight between “Baby, if your new love ever turns you down/Come back, I will be around” and “I think about the way things used to be/Knowing you’re with him is driving me crazy.”

Elvis paid tribute to Burt multiple times Thursday evening, delivering heartfelt renditions of “Baby, It’s You,” “Anyone Who Had A Heart,” and “Please Stay” while promising that future nights would include selections from the Bacharach/Costello canon once Steve Nieve arrives from France to join him on piano. 


But the mood of the evening wasn’t somber — it was celebratory, even if Costello occasionally referenced the possibility that a few of these songs might conceivably be making their last appearance in concert. Starting out with the first two tracks from his debut album, the singer appeared to be in fine fettle, immediately establishing a rapport with the crowd as he informed us, mid-anecdote, that this show wasn’t
Springsteen on Broadway. The intimate, occasionally conversational vibe of the evening made the comparison feel apt – when Costello was explaining the way certain songs influenced his writing (as when he played Van Morrison’s “Domino” back-to-back with the early version of “Living in Paradise”) or crediting/blaming Randy Newman’s influence for his darkly comic “Wave a White Flag,” it almost felt confessional, as if he was sharing a secret with the audience.

His performance of “Stranger in the House” felt more vulnerable than I’ve ever heard him sing it before, and he somehow made “Sneaky Feelings” feel like a brand new song. In fact, the primary energy of the night wasn’t of a songwriter dusting off his early catalog for a trip down memory lane. To hear him urgently tear into the rarely played “I’m Not Angry,” it was clear that he was re-connecting with these songs in the present moment, and finding new reasons to sing them again.

As someone who is always longing for deep cuts and rarities to pop up in a setlist, the effect was overwhelming, with “pre-professional” songs like “Imagination (Is a Powerful Deceiver)” or Clover’s “Mr. Moon” appearing just minutes apart from album tracks like “No Dancing,” none of which I ever anticipated I would hear live. At one point, Costello name-dropped the song “The Night Before Larry Was Stretched,” an 18th century Irish execution ballad that he has covered on a record but never before played in concert. He laughed as he said it, but for a brief moment, it felt like there was a non-zero chance it could actually happen, as the song would certainly fit the night’s theme of having been written prior to 1977.

Friday night’s pre-announced 10 songs range from 1981’s Trust to 2009’s Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, and consist mostly of things I’ve never heard him play live. If there’s a theme connecting them, I haven’t been able to crack it, but I’m certain that all will be revealed when Costello returns to the Gramercy stage for Night Two…

Connor Ratliff is an actor/comedian based in New York City.  He is the creator of the critically acclaimed podcast, Dead Eyes. You might have seen him in the role of “Chester” on multiple seasons of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.