Song of the Day #1,017: ‘Little Atoms’ – Elvis Costello

I’ve been lucky enough to see Elvis Costello in concert four times. Every one of the shows was simply amazing.

The first was on Halloween night, 1999, in Sunrise, Florida, and like the SOTD’s from yesterday and today, it featured just Costello on guitar and Steve Nieve on piano. The 39-song (!) set list is posted here and I believe it might have been submitted to that site by my cousin (though certainly there were other “Heathers” who attended the show).

Song #39 on that list, ‘Couldn’t Call it Unexpected No. 4,’ was delivered “off mic” by Costello in one of the most intimate moments I’ve ever witnessed at a live concert. He was about ten feet away, belting out the song with no accompaniment.

At another show, at the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami, he was backed by a full band and teased much drama out of an electric guitar. This is the set list from that performance.

A second show at the Gleason Theater featured Tift Merritt as Costello’s opening act, and her set made as big an impact on me as his. The set list from that show notes that he sang two songs while “sitting on the edge of the stage” and “sitting in a front row seat.” I envied those people!

I saw him once in Boca Raton at the Mizner Amphitheater (once again, here’s the set list and, seriously man, god bless the freaking internet!). Look how he segued from ‘Deep Dark Truthful Mirror’ into ‘You Really Got a Hold On Me’ and ‘Alison’ into ‘Suspicious Minds.’ He always pulls off something unexpected and wonderful.

I’m not a big concertgoer. It’s too damn expensive and rarely do shows live up to my expectations. But Elvis Costello is a wonderful exception. He is a true showman and a true musician. And he’s also a funny guy, as evidenced by the monologue he slips into the middle of today’s performance of ‘Little Atoms.’

[Note: Today’s clip concludes my Elvis Costello Weekends]

I arose and Marigold lay down with Curious Iris
Cherry gave to Victor her prudence and her virus
For the sake of purity I can recall the time and place
Between Wisdom and Murder she gave up her immaculate face

My poor belated chastity fell foul of grown up games,
With false and lovely modesty
I can recall the names I’ll miss
In the particle of me that cares for this
I betrayed those little atoms with a kiss

Patience has her virtue still
but every grace must have its price
I through some felicity may spin a tale of constant vice
I took my better nature out, drowned it in the babbling stream
Took the blossom of my youth and blew it all to smithereens


And if you still don’t like my song then you can just go to hell
I don’t care if I’m right or wrong or if my typewriter can spell
But I cannot promise you I’ve said Goodbye to childish things
There’s still some pretty insults left and such sport in threatening


And for the sake of clarity
They are Faith, Hope, and Charity
In the particle of me that cares for this
I betrayed those little atoms with a kiss

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,017: ‘Little Atoms’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana says:

    Well, as I said yesterday, my favorite live performances by Elvis are those that have him playing just with Steve acoustically. So, for me, this is a wonderful way to conclude Elvis weekends.

    And of course, this gives me one final opportunity to urge you to come to New York to see what may prove to be the most memorable Costello concert of all–the Spinning Wheel show at the Beacon Theater. We still have that extra ticket:) You only live once…., just sayin’….

  2. Amy says:

    Great performance of this song. I, too, have loved seeing Costello in concert. Might be interesting to feature a week devoted to those artists who reward the frequent concert fan by mixing up the set lists, never playing the same show twice. Then there are those who put together such a SHOW that the set list will inevitably be identical, as the concert is closer to a Broadway performance than a group of musicians jamming for a couple of hours. I’m happy to have attended both types of concerts, though I agree that the cost has become so astronomical that I don’t attend as many as I otherwise might.

    I’ve enjoyed these Costello weekends, but I, once again, look forward to finding out what you have up your sleeve to replace them 🙂

  3. […] on The Larry Sanders Show is wonderful. There’s another wonderful live performance here (scroll to the bottom of the entry – no, before the comments). Stripped down, this song is […]

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