Elvis Costello tweaks his classics to surprise fans

English singer- songwriter Elvis Costello challenges himself to find new ways to express his songs.
English singer- songwriter Elvis Costello challenges himself to find new ways to express his songs.PHOTO: JAMES OMARA

A master of reinvention, veteran English singer-songwriter Elvis Costello is known for the constantly changing styles of music in his discography dating to the 1970s.

Still, not all his fans are happy when he fiddles with live versions of his best-known tunes at his concerts.

In 2011, for example, after his gig here at the Grand Theatre, Marina Bay Sands, a fan wrote to The Straits Times to say how "very disappointing" it was to hear the bespectacled artist play tweaked versions of his classic songs.

Costello, who will be back for his fourth gig in Singapore, this time at the Esplanade Concert Hall tomorrow, shrugs off such concerns.

"It's better for the audience if I keep trying to find new ways to express the songs rather than rely on playing them exactly like in people's memory," he says in a telephone interview from Vancouver.

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    WHEN: Tomorrow, 8pm

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"Obviously, when you've sung the song 1,000 times, you need to surprise yourself before you can surprise the audience.

"I don't go out of my way to be perverse in the way I change songs, but I am also not afraid of change."

The Grammy winner is still finding ways to breathe new life into old songs, adding that he recently came up with two new ways to play one of his best-known tunes, Everyday I Write The Book, from his 1983 album Punch The Clock.

The 62-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee says he is looking forward to performing at the Esplanade Concert Hall again, a venue which he described in a previous interview as "one of the best in the world I've ever played in".

He first performed there for his maiden Singapore show in 2009.

"For a solo performance, you have the benefit of a concert hall with acoustics that is like having an orchestra there because it is so rich.

"It's ideally suited as not only can you throw your voice out into it, but you can also sing very intimately and invite the audience in."

His wife, multi-Grammy-winning and best-selling Canadian jazz singer and musician Diana Krall, has also performed at the venue, including two shows there in February. The couple, who married in 2003, have nine-year-old twin boys.

Seeing them play together there would certainly be a dream pairing, but it is unlikely to happen, he says.

"It's always difficult for us to be in the same place because we have young children who have to go to school. And we try to plan our lives to have as much time together as a family, which sometimes requires either of us to be away from home."

Born Declan Patrick MacManus in London, his stage name is taken from his musician and bandleader father, who performed as Day Costello, and rock 'n' roll icon Elvis Presley.

His first album, My Aim Is True, was released in 1977. A collection of tunes that straddled genres such as punk, new wave and power pop, it has been hailed by critics as one of the most impressive debut albums in rock history for his lyrical dexterity and sharp songwriting. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2007.

In a long and consistently productive career, the prolific artist has released 30 albums, both under his own name and with his bands, The Attractions and The Imposters. His discography covers many genres, ranging from rock to jazz and classical.

He has also released collaboration albums with artists from disparate genres, including legendary pop composer Burt Bacharach (1998's Painted From Memory) and hip-hop band The Roots (2013's Wise Up Ghost).

He has also dabbled in acting on television and in movies over the years, including appearing as himself several times in movies such as 1999 comedy Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, television sitcom 3rd Rock From The Sun and even as a cartoon character in The Simpsons.

"They come off occasionally, it's not something I have an ambition about, as an actor. Usually I'm playing "man in glasses" or "man in glasses wearing hat", sometimes I'm called by my professional name, and they're usually good humoured. I would do it if somebody asked me to do an acting role, but I don't believe the world is poorer because I have not acted as Hamlet or Macbeth."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2016, with the headline 'Elvis Costello tweaks his classics to surprise fans'. Print Edition | Subscribe