16 August 2009

Elvis Costello, June 14 @ Koka Booth Amphitheatre

This is the first of my 'catch-up' posts...items I've written about in my journal since the spring, but am just now bringing over to the blog. Have some patience with me, folks, as I get them all moved over...

Every so often, I get to see God, live and in person. Now when some people say that, it generally entails some further explanation about a religious epiphany that has occurred to them. In my case, it's a tad bit more humble and a far bit more accessible to the modern man and gal: it just means I've seen an Elvis Costello show.

I had such a pleasure this past Sunday (June 14), out at the Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary. Ideally, Koka is not a great venue for 'big draw' concerts, but given this was God's tour with The Sugarcanes (promoting his latest album, "Secret, Profane & Sugarcane"), a smaller venue such as this worked really, really well. The material on this album, as well as some of his more recent releases, suits a 'quieter' venue much better than the mammoth Walnut Creek would in comparison, or even in comparison to the new (and dare I say it?) and sterile-feeling Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC). This album mines from a more bluegrass, traditional, Americana-like stream, but still features God's poignant and brilliant lyrics. (I occasionally read an interview with some new 'up and coming' talent who says he/she just also wants to be a great songwriter. Until someone actually says they've studied under the tutelage of God and His pen, I really can't take them too seriously. He's that damn good.) Add to this that Koka probably has the best acoustics of any largish-size venue in the area, so having a good show was almost a given before arrival.

A bit to my amazement, the show did not seem like a complete sell-out. I always buy lawn seats there, as you can bring your own chair (and, depending on the event, can often bring in your own food and drink), and there were more than a few 'empty' spots near the back. 'Tis a shame, really, for those that missed it, but was a full-fare show for those that did make it out...and many of us are/were die-hard fans. God, who over the years has been both relaxed and uptight talking in the shows of which I've been in attendance, seemed in particularly good spirits Sunday. Not such a hard place to be, really, as The Sugarcanes (featuring Jim Lauderdale) were in fine form and his audience more than receptive to any number of small errors. It was not a perfect show to be certain...but I've rarely been to a live show that was...but its few imperfections made it all the more human and great.

All told, age and newly rediscovered fatherhood has served Him, and His musical ventures, very well. Whereas other contemporaries have long since come and gone (and perhaps even tried to come back again in the form of a reunion tour or something), or perhaps have seen their lyrical impact fall on deaf years, Mr Costello He keeps cranking out gems here or there that still have relevance, still creating a devoted following. Considering that some of that following (myself included) have been fans for 30+ years now is quite a testament. Further, the fact that He and His audience would/could still consider themselves 'young' and 'still questioning' is quite a revelation: either as a sign of greatness still to come or as a sign of our mutual utopian hope for the world to improve itself.

Elvis Costello and The Sugarcanes do a cover of the Grateful Dead's "Friend of Mine" at Koka Booth Amphitheatre, Cary, NC, June 14, 2009.

God's voice sounded strained mid-song a bit at times...I don't know if it was a cold or allergies or age taking a toss at him...but he gave a very full, diverse set. The few 'classics' he whipped out from his many previous incarnations..."Allison", "Indoor Fireworks", and "King of America"...had been slightly modified to fit more easily within The Sugarcanes 'sound'. I've seen him on three continents so far over the years...and should I win the lottery, I will go see him on any other applicable ones...but his steadiness remains throughout. As I enthusiastically told a friend of mine tonight (a friend who plays regularly with a local bluegrass band), it wasn't so much as a band playing God's songs, backing God, as much as it was God sitting in on a really great bluegrass jam session, desperately wanting to contribute in any way he could. The success of shows such as Sunday's reaffirms that His disciples, like the leader Himself, refuse to be genre-typed or boxed in musically. And we're all damn well better off because of it.

The tour continues through the summer months, so go see them when it rolls through your neck of the woods: like fine-aged whisky, the blend of age with Elvis only tastes sweeter as it spreads out through your brain, your heart, and even your soul. Check out the tour schedule here.

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