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Review of concert from 2002-07-10: Sydney, Enmore Theatre - with Imposters
Juice, 2002-08-01
- Jude Winston


Photograph by Linda Heller-Salvador  

Elvis Costello And The Imposters

Enmore Theatre, Sydney

ON THE BACK of his first rock record in seven years, the man better not known as Declan McManus has brought his celebration of all things wordy and cynical to Australia. The response has been resoundingly positive, and the bespectacled one wasn't about to disappoint.

With a sold-out tour, the return of Elvis Costello - to both rock music and our shores - has been overdue. Joined by two thirds of the original Attractions (keyboardist Steve Nieve, drummer Pete Thomas) and new bassist Davey Faragher, the Mercurial maestro has obviously had enough of ballads and Burt Bacharach; he was more than happy to barnstorm through a fantastic evening.

Sydney's seated Enmore Theatre might not have been an ideal setting for a raucous rock-out, but Costello's outings with the Brodsky Quartet has seen him become accustomed to playing to a still room. He was unfazed by the very not-rock crowd; by the end of the night everyone was dancing in the aisles.

Costello made it clear that this was definitely a tour to support his latest album, When I Was Cruel, and not a greatest-hits jaunt. Opening with "45" from the 2002 record, he began to walk a tightrope between giving the people what they wanted and delivering his fresh ideas. The balance was perfectly struck. Though the set was biased heavily towards When I Was Cruel, it never once felt like the musician was on a marketing drive; the new material was not only well placed, but it was also played with a classic Costello feel.

Even when he updated the sound and turned to samplers for new tunes like "When I Was Cruel No 2" and "Spooky Girlfriend", a vintage feel prevailed.

Of course, the classics were there; early versions of "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" and "Oliver's Army" put a contented smile on the faces of anybody who thought the last album Costello had recorded was Spike. He also brought out an old acoustic guitar to deliver a very intimate take on "All This Useless Beauty" before rolling into a similarity acoustic version of "Little Triggers" that left the album take for dead.

Not surprisingly, Nieve was hard to ignore, swinging like a drunk's marionette between a massive bank of keyboards, adding melodeon moments and creating a little corner of mayhem. With much of his work simply sensational, it's clear why he has remained such a permanent fixture in Costello's music.

Costello also proved he has lost none of his own playing power; his guitar work is as sharp as ever, and his singing voice - like or loathe it - is still hugely powerful and engaging. On occasion he stepped away from the mike to sing acoustically, and still managed to fill the theatre.

As much as a joke as encores have become, on this night the audience were lucky enough to enjoy a number of genuine call-backs, as Costello returned to stage four times at the crowd's behest. I was a little worried when he returned again after a stunning set that included "Radio Radio" and "Beat", but his closing number, 'I Want You" played in darkness with just a blue light - shone. Again Costello proved that, after all these years, what looks like it might be a mistake is so often a very pleasant surprise.


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