Elvis Costello Delivers in concert with vocal power
With 28 years and more than 400 songs under his belt, the Hall of Famer
rocks the Wiltern with a fiery show.
By Michael Ordona
Published: Monday, March 28, 2005
Elvis Costello got right down to business.
The erstwhile über-angry young man, now 50, an Oscar nominee and hall-of-famer, showed the crowd at his Saturday night Wiltern show that he was every bit as vital as he had ever been while showcasing his growth as a musician. He tore into the music with such urgency that it wasn't until eight songs in that he paused to speak with the audience. The celebrity-studded crowd (including Christopher Guest, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dave Foley and Gina Gershon) didn't complain, as Costello played a two-and-a-half hour, 35-song set that drew from all stages of his almost 30-year career.
Many of the selections received throbbing, full-on rock treatments by The Imposters - As Costello fans know, he rarely leaves his tunes alone when playing them live; the risks taken with their interpretation make each of his concerts unique.
Apart from playing almost every song from his latest album, The Delivery Man, Costello rolled out plenty of crowd-pleasers, like "Pump It Up," "Watching the Detectives" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," as well as more obscure tracks from his immense catalogue. Among these were a rock quartet version of the Burt Bacharach-co-written "In the Darkest Place," a scalding "Hurry Down Doomsday" and a bit of "I Feel Pretty" interpolated into "Clubland."
John McFee (the guitarist who played lead on Costello's first album and the "Almost Blue" record) joined the band to furnish the original lead lines for several songs, including a slew of country covers. Another artist might have feared that the extended country section risked losing the audience, but Costello's fans have come to expect - even to demand - that he do whatever he wants. Besides, they were rewarded with a pristine version of "Alison."
The focus of the concert was the Delivery Man material, which straddles rock, country and R&B. Many of the songs gained muscle from the live treatment, while a few lost some subtlety. "Button My Lip" became a bluesy stomp, with a drive and clarity not on the CD. "Needle Time" was played with a menacing gait, more like the newly released version on The Clarksdale Sessions (a companion EP/bonus disc to Delivery Man) than the original, robbing it of some of its evil train-wreck ambiance. "Bedlam" benefited from the harder approach, but the steady rumble of the kick drum (perhaps too far forward in the mix all night) threatened to overwhelm it.
Among other highlights, Costello displayed some impressive lead guitar chops on "Blame It on Cain," "When I Was Cruel No. 2" and especially on an absolutely blistering rendition of "I Want You" (an obsessively jealous rant which the singer imbued with naked fury).
Costello's set was like cold water in the face after opening-act Sondre Lerche, a jazzy singer-songwriter originally from Norway.
Lerche has a way with pop standard-style compositions and is a fine guitarist, but his Roddy Frame-like, wispy crooning eventually wore out its welcome.
Of course, when Costello took the stage, all was forgiven.
The 35th song of Costello's performance was a lovely, extended version of the Oscar-nominated "Scarlet Tide" (from "Cold Mountain"). For one verse, the singer stepped away from the microphone and filled the Wiltern with the power of his lungs. It was yet another example of the assured virtuosity of one of rock's most enduring artists, and the crowd went nuts for it.