Elvis Costello at Glastonbury 2013 review

Peace, love and understanding, except for Thatcher

Elvis Costello at Glastonbury 2013 review

Photographer: Shirlaine ForrestJohn Bownas on 30 June 2013

Elvis Costello, the perennial pub-rocker, takes a sun-basked Saturday afternoon Glastonbury main stage crowd for a joyful jaunt down a musical memory lane. It’s a pity though that not everyone in the audience appears to be a fan – meaning that appreciation is patchy at best. 

Under a brilliant blue sky Costello successfully debunks the myth that spots and stripes are a fashion faux pas. Sporting a natty pinstriped suit and a purple shirt emblazoned with yellow polka-dots he leads his band, The Imposters, through a set that includes pretty much all of the tunes you’d expect – and perhaps one, ‘Tramp The Dirt Down’ – that the BBC might have been happier had been left out. 

It’s not a secret that Elvis Costello was no fan of Maggie Thatcher – and if there was ever any last shadow of doubt it was blown away the day he penned this vitriolic, no-holds-barred diatribe against the former PM. There’s no need for subtle analysis of hidden meaning when Costello sings of the laughter he expected would be forthcoming as England stamped on Thatcher’s grave, and although it’s likely that this is an opinion shared by many at the festival, it’s interesting to hear a few loud dissenting voices rallying to Maggie’s defence and calling for her legacy to be honoured rather than reviled. 

That said, far be it for Costello to truly speak ill of the dead, regardless of how passionately anti-Thatcherite he might be. And so, tipping a hat to his father, who also suffered from dementia at the end, he does make the point that the song is as much about burying an idea as it is about burying a person in the ground. 

Other stand-our songs in a set that also includes firm crowd-pleasers such as ‘Radio, Radio’, 'Pump It Up' and ‘Everyday I Write the Book’ has to be ‘Shipbuilding’ (dedicated to Robert Whyatt, of course, who as Costello points out, would always sing it better than he ever could.) and, perhaps surprisingly, the less-well-known ‘Bedlam’ with its pounding tribal rhythms giving it an instant foot-stomping hook. 

Oliver’s Army’ comes with some neat new vocal flourishes to make you realise that Costello still cares for his songs rather than just going through them by rote, and the reprise of ‘Peace, Love and Understanding’ that wraps up the show is perhaps the perfect sentiment for the ultimate festival of good vibes and shared dreams.

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