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Ghost Canyon

'Elvis Costello: Live - A Case For Song'
(Elvis Costello / DVD / NR / (1997) 2007 / Rhino)

Overview: Post-punk icon and ex-computer programmer Elvis Costello (born Declan McManus) has been listed by several noted music critics as one of the 100 most influential rock musicians of the 20th century. This live performance, filmed at the BBC in London, features the king of nerd pop performing solo, with the Attractions, with the Brodsky Quartet, and with the White City Septet. Among the 16 tracks performed are "Accidents Will Happen," "Why Can't a Man Stand Alone," "Veronica," and "You Bowed Down."

DVD Verdict: Recorded in 1997 for the BBC, this London concert spotlights Costello performing with his longtime backup band, the Attractions; the White City Septet; and the renowned string quartet, the Brodsky Quartet, with which he collaborated on 1992's The Juliet Letters.

Costello fans won't be disappointed. Although the show doesn't include much material from the earlier phase of his career the performance does highlight the depth and range of his oeuvre. This is the Costello who emerged from 1989's Spike, when he made the leap from Columbia Records to Warner Brothers. From that point on, his songwriting became more arch, his lyrical obsessions increasingly meaty and obtuse. It's great stuff, to be sure, but it also means that A Case for Song isn't the best entry for non-EC fans.

Still, Costello is in fine form here, boasting strong, malleable vocals and an easygoing rapport with an appreciative audience. There are plenty of highlights: the rockabilly tinge of "Pump It Up," the lushness of "Man Out of Time" and the tense noir vibe that propels "Complicated Shadows."

With the Brodsky Quartet, Costello shifts gears for chamber music, albeit songs with a pop sensibility. Chances are you will find the results either charming or overly precious, without much in-between room. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs, but does not come with any Special Features.