Review of concert from 2004-04-16: Memphis, TN, Hi-Tone Cafe, early show - with the Imposters
Commercial Appeal, 2004-04-18
- Bill Ellis
Elvis (Costello) plays the blues
Garage rock, too, at packed Hi-Tone
By Bill Ellis
April 18, 2004
Memphis was abuzz this weekend with Elvis sightings.
Elvis Costello that is, who played four sold-out shows Friday and Saturday
at the Hi-Tone in what will be remembered as one of the city's coolest club
Currently recording an album in Oxford, Miss., with producer Dennis Herring,
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Costello has taken this opportunity to
woodshed some of the new material in live settings. The Hi-Tone dates
followed two similar concerts at Oxford club Proud Larry's the first weekend
The regional performances made perfect sense given the strong, at times
mythic, blues, soul and gospel touches in the new songs, a reason perhaps
why Costello felt compelled to record in the deep South (he also sneaks into
Ardent this week for additional studio time).
Judging by what was heard at the first of two shows on Friday before a
packed, standing-room-only crowd of more than 300, the coming album - to be
released on roots indie Lost Highway in the fall - may well be Costello's
best in years.
It certainly finds him returning after several jazz, classical and high pop
detours, to what he does best, writing some of the most probing, insightful
songs that a four-piece rock band could ever hope to get its hands on.
Said accompaniment came from Costello's group of late, the Impostors, which
pairs his old Attractions bandmates - keyboardist extraordinaire Steve Nieve
and drumming great Pete Thomas - with bassist Davey Faragher, best known for
his work in Cracker. The chemistry was undeniable as the quartet took songs
to the edge and back, a balancing act at times of punk-imbued tension and
The new tunes welcomed such extremes, where the New Wave-esque "Needle
Time'' shifted suddenly into lower gear, a Chicago blues transformed, while
the angular funk of "Bedlam'' saved room for a Steve Cropper appropriation
or two from Costello's lead guitar. And the jaunty Allen Toussaint-like
pop-blues of "Monkey To Man'' felt like the best bid for a radio hit the
49-year-old performer has had in some time.
Memphis fans found an apt mantra in the closing refrain to a song called
"The Delivery Man.''
"In a certain light, you look like Elvis/In a certain way you seem like
Jesus,'' went the repeated lines, sung like a strange lullaby, one that
showed Costello still has the lyrical and melodic power to get under your
skin. He did it as well on the night's most impressive new selection,
"Country Darkness,'' a William Bell-meets-William Blake existential soul
Playing his first Bluff City concert in a decade, Costello also gave the
boisterously appreciative audience a fair number of familiar milestones,
including "Radio, Radio,'' "You Belong to Me,'' "(I Don't Want To Go To)
Chelsea'' and "Uncomplicated,'' all packed with garage-rock punch.
- Bill Ellis