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Review of concert from 2002-07-10: Sydney, Enmore Theatre - with Imposters
Australian, 2002-07-12
- Iain Shedden


Costello's classic revolution carries on

Elvis Costello and the Imposters
Enmore Theatre, Sydney

ELVIS Costello first set his twitchy new-wave brothel creepers on Australian soil in 1978, when the dark forces of punk rock were still causing the establishment (anyone over 30) some concern. Melbourne took no chances with this musical menace and summoned large numbers of state police to keep their eyes open for what Costello, recalling the memory fondly, describes as bizarre behaviour coming from the stage.

If they expected incitement to riot from safety-pinned upstarts in ripped pants, they would have been disappointed. Costello's revolution was never so transparent or fashion-conscious or perfunctory. Yes, he looked a bit odd with his Buddy Holly specs and his tight suit, but he and his band could play a bit and behind the bluster of their live set lay a songwriter who redefined the pop song as we knew it.

I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea was one such classic. Twenty-four years later in Sydney the song was given a beautifully anarchic rebirth in a Costello performance of astonishing power and depth that lasted more than two hours. Sitting alongside material from his latest album When I Was Cruel, it served to illustrate that while many from that punk era have come and gone (and, in some cases, come back), Costello has been a force in popular music throughout. This was an awesome show of strength, rich in the choice of material, in the musicianship that flitted from manic to majestic and in Costello's voice which, if anything, has got better.

It was a different Costello to the one we saw here two years ago when, with regular keyboard player Steve Nieve in tow, the fruits of his collaboration with Burt Bacharach were given a raw, emotional tribute. The night was, in a sense, a return to Costello's roots. Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas, linchpins of many of their employer's classic moments with the Attractions, are now the Imposters, joined by extremely able bass player Davey Faragher. This line-up adds weight to the nostalgia trip. There were moments, when the four of them were in full flight during an early hit, such as Accidents Will Happen, when time seemed to have stood still.

It hasn't, though, and Costello's catalogue has grown to about 300 titles. Many crowd favourites made it into the set, including Alison, Watching the Detectives, Waiting for the End of the World and a much-altered, AI Green-style version of Clown Time is Over. The new album got an extensive airing - among the highlights When I Was Cruel 2, the explosive Daddy Can I Turn This? with Costello almost wringing blood out of his guitar, and 45, one of several tracks that bears the hallmarks of earlier glories.

The encores, five of them, were as unpredictable as they were fantastic. Rather than just parade more hits, he sprung newer material such as 15 Petals on a crowd by then well out of their seats. The rumbling Pump It Up would have been the obvious closer, but Costello, in his contrary style, followed it with the sombre tale of obsession, I Want You.

Costello has veered in many directions over 25 years. This was a celebration of his rock 'n' roll credentials and it couldn't have been much better.

lain Shedden


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