Elvis Costello - Marina Bay Sands - Grand Theatre, Singapore, March 7, 2011 

DID HE PLAY THE HITS? When you’re a guy like Elvis, with close to 30 albums in your repertoire, you have so many songs to choose from you’d really have to make an effort to play a lot of filler. Of the 27 selections, there were at least a dozen bona-fide vintage winners, from Oliver’s Army to a truly fuzzed-out, multilayer Watching the Detectives. Alison, Radio Sweetheart, Green Shirt, Veronica, Everyday I Write the Book (a song he “no longer hates playing” thanks to Canada’s Ron Sexsmith), Beyond Belief, She, Almost Blue, (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes, I Hope You’re Happy Now, Pump It Up and (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding? all made an appearance, and there were even some Van Morrison and Beatles snippets tossed in for good measure. Good enough for an old 80’s rocker like me.

WAS THE NEW RECORD WORTH HEARING? It’s not bad, but do make an effort to understand which type of Elvis fan you are before jumping in. If you wrote him off once he started sharing the mic with the likes of Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach and (gasp) Daryl Hall, then you’ll be happy with only about a third of the show, though probably indifferent to the new disc (National Ransom), which is kinda roots-rocky with some other styles thrown into the mix. If you were cool until he went country/classical/jazz, then maybe two-thirds of the show, and you’re good for most of the record. And if you do appreciate all the different directions he’s taken, you probably won’t care whatever he puts out as long as it has that nasal, plaintive wail, something about heartbreak or loss and a few clever puns. He did give us four cuts from National Ransom, the title track (and show opener) being the most interesting as he howled and yowled over pre-recorded drum beats and noise instead of the straight-up treatment you’ll find on disc, shocking most of the wine and cheese crowd awake, or at least confusing them. Several of the other Ransom songs are of the “look how far I’ve grown” variety, from blues to country ballad to 1920s Django-inspired jazz (and whatever you think of the song A Slow Drag with Josephine, you have to admit that Elvis can really carve it up on fingerpicking guitar these days). Short answer: if you liked the last record (Secret, Profane and Sugarcane), you’ll be just fine.

WAS HE STILL CUTE? The advantage of looking older in your youth is that as you age, your physical differences are far less pronounced (Exhibit A: Bun E. Carlos, please come forward). Elvis is probably the closest thing to an American troubadour we have today, all that despite being many years too late and of course still quite British. Full suit and tie (never loosened), fedora, deadpan smirk and ever-present specs means he looks about 15 years older than This Year’s Model. If you liked angular nerd then, why wouldn’t you like seasoned angular nerd with a little less hair now?

DID HE STILL ROCK? Always a bit tough to pull off solo, and even tougher when the crowd (thanks in part to the austere theatre feel of the just-opened venue) doesn’t even get it together enough to yell out easy lines like “oh, why’s that?” to the “I know that she’s disgusted” part of Red Shoes, though they did at least quasi-manage to figure out the chorus to Pump It Up. His voice sounded great, and his performance chops haven’t dulled a bit, particularly the guitar work. For the older songs, Mr. Costello did try to help out the energy levels with more distorted guitar, exhortations, yelling and the like, but absent a full band it’s tough to get the notoriously indifferent Singapore concert audience, which did at least include a few rowdies, to really get into full jump and stomp mode (as they managed to for the recent Iron Maiden show). But then again, when you’re outnumbered 7 to 1 by your onstage guitars, and also sit in an easy chair for a few numbers, it’s also how you’re choosing to present yourself. If you need your Elvis noisier, louder and sweatier, maybe best to wait until he gets the band back on tour with him.

WHAT DID IT COST? Well, here’s where we’re special in Singapore, with limited concerts, lack of venues and few artists willing to make the long trip over. $150 for about ten rows back in a venue better suited for staging the Lion King (and I think due to in a few weeks, actually). Further back cheaper, but nothing less than about $70. The Grand Theatre is a very demure, polite, acoustically tuned place not very conducive to standing up or yelling but able to hold about 2,100 people. So it was definitely a profitable affair for the McManus/Krall household.

WORTH TURNING UP FOR THE OPENER? Um, no opener, just the one guy with the sneer and the horn rims. But he’s playing in a giant indoor hotel/mall/casino/restaurant the size of an airport with an ice rink, so plenty of other options to spend some cash if you choose. Not sure that’s a plus.

WAS IT WORTH GETTING MY BUTT OFF SOFA TO GO SEE / PAYING FOR A SITTER? Ask yourself: “Have I ever seen Elvis Costello?” Also ask yourself: “Do I know any other performer who can be considered the rock and roll Cole Porter of his generation?” Finally, ask yourself if you would be upset with more of a serenade than a straight up rock show. “No” to all three means you should go out and get a ticket tout suite. Whatever the case, I was happy to see he’s still got some game, and if you ever were a fan, you will be too.


Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Paradise, Boston, March 7, 2011 – Erin Amar and Amy Prohaska

DID THEY PLAY THE HITS? They played more hits than either of us remembered! The appearance of Messages, Tesla Girls, If You Leave, Souvenir, Joan Of Arc, So In Love, Locomotion, Enola Gay, Electricity, and more meant we spent most of the evening in delighted surprise. Neither of us had realized we knew so many OMD songs. But maybe more importantly, we were unaware till now that we really liked so many OMD songs. Only notable exception of evening? Secret.

WAS THE NEW RECORD WORTH HEARING? Yes, and kudos to the band for not relying on the mistaken idea people that concertgoers were just there to hear the new stuff (always a big mistake). New tracks like Sister Marie Says and History Of Modern (Part 1) were sprinkled throughout the set rather than overwhelming it. New and old merged nicely and not once did we find ourselves tuning out waiting for a favorite song of the past to come our way.

WERE THEY STILL CUTE? OMD had a real advantage in this category because central figures Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys were never the sort of band boys anyone really mooned over – gawky, pale, and possibly even too English for anglophiles to carry a torch for – even when they were at their height of fame. That said, at 51, both of these gents get bonus points for being fit, well dressed and having a good head of hair. Oh time, you are the great equalizer! Unlike every other band on earth, OMD are now significantly more attractive than they were 25 years ago.

DID THEY STILL ROCK? A number of friends at the show assured us that OMD have always been a great live band, but neither of us was prepared for how good this show would be. McCluskey’s voice was picture perfect as he did the same same goofy, stompy, bass-playing dance he did throughout the 80’s all over the stage. During quieter moments he grasped the hands of women in the audience and looked deeply into their eyes during songs like Souvenir, but the majority of time was spent jumping and doing a crazy “stuck in my pyjamas” dance all over the stage. Songs seemed more alive and more rock than cold and synthesized on stage than they ever were on record, leading the dozen or so mature hipsters in our group to repeatedly remark to each other “Wow!”

WHAT DID IT COST? $20. Venue that holds around 900 completely packed. A middle aged mob scene!

WORTH TURNING UP FOR THE OPENER? Amy says “Opener Oh Land delivered fizzy pop music closing her set with the energetic We Turn It Up”  Erin says “I stand up for the Danes”

WAS IT WORTH GETTING MY BUTT OFF SOFA TO GO SEE / PAYING FOR A SITTER? Like any people of a reasonable age out on a school night we entered the venue grumbling about needing to get home at a reasonable hour for our precious beauty sleep. But OMD’s energy was so infectious, as was the packed house of dancing people, we stayed through encore with no complaints. Sometimes you just have to have an extra coffee the morning after a show, or call in sick. As Amy says: “OMD? OMG!”