By Alan Sculley
FOR THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, July 21, 2005
To say that 2004 was a banner year for veteran rocker Elvis Costello wouldn't be an understatement.
Fresh off of touring behind his stirring 2002 rock album, "When I Was Cruel," Costello -- who's performing Sunday at the Chevrolet Amphitheatre at Station Square -- released two very different -- and acclaimed -- CDs on Sept. 21, the rocking, album "The Delivery Man" and his classical work, "Il Sogno."
Then in December, Costello capped off his impressive year with three Grammy nominations -- including one for best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for the song "Monkey To Man" and best Rock Album for "The Delivery Man."
When the winners were announced this past February at the Grammy Awards, Costello was nowhere to be seen. To Costello, who was up against U2 in the song category and Green Day's "American Idiot" for the best album honor, there was no point in attending the Grammys. Costello knew, he said during an public interview session at the South By Southwest Music Conference in Austin in March, that he had no chance to beat that competition.
"From where I was standing, I was happier to be in a club with the Killers or the Gorillaz or whoever they are and (skip) the madness for noble reasons, while the monolith that is U2 crushed us under their jack boot," Costello said.
That sort of practical outlook, laced with self-deprecating humor and a good deal of genuine humility, was frequently on display as Costello was quizzed during the panel at South By Southwest by Bill Flanagan, a veteran music journalist and senior vice president at MTV, for about 75 minutes.
During a wide-ranging interview, Costello looked back on a career that began with the 1977 album, "My Aim Is True" at the outset of the punk/new wave movement, and has since seen him build one of the strongest most varied music catalogs around, with albums that have spanned the genres of rock, pop, country, classical and beyond. His collaborations have paired him with artists as diverse as Paul McCartney, George Jones, the Brodsky Quartet and Burt Bacharach.
And while Costello still releases albums at a steady clip, he said that his live shows remain a primary focus. One such performance is captured on the newly released DVD: "Club Date: Live In Memphis," which in addition to showcasing material from "The Delivery Man" and fan favorites from throughout his career, also includes a guest appearance from Emmylou Harris on five songs.
The DVD also showcases the work of Costello's current backing band, the Imposters. That group features two members from his previous group, the Attractions -- keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas -- plus bassist Davy Faragher. The Attractions bassist was Bruce Thomas -- no relation to the drummer.
Although with Costello included the two groups share three members, Costello said he considers them entirely different bands.
"(A) key difference between the Imposters and the Attractions is the kind of player, the kind of musician that Davey Faragher is," Costello said. "And listen, this is not going to be an exercise in talking down somebody I'm well on the record of not getting along with, Bruce Thomas, the Attractions' bass player. But he simply can't play a groove. He's a great inventive, melodic bass player in a kind of style, but you cannot find a solid groove on an Attractions record. The Attractions rhythm section was Pete Thomas and me on rhythm guitar. You listen to the Attractions records, there were like three guitar solos (total). Since we've come up with a conventional rhythm section, obviously that relationship changes. It gives Steve more freedom to do different thing and me to do different things. Davey also is a great singer."
Costello's current focus remains on touring in support of "The Delivery Man," an album he began work on in 1999, only to shelve the project for five years.
"I had the idea of the story," he said. "I had the initial songs, which were ballads, and I was getting ready to make the record when one of these corporate summersaults (his word for a shakeup) occurred and it became obvious that making a record for what then was Mercury (Records) would have been idiotic."
By the time Costello returned to "The Delivery Man," he no longer wanted to make a CD full of ballads -- hence the presence of such rowdy tunes as "Button My Lip," "There's A Story In Your Voice" and "Monkey To Man". Costello had also decided how to use his story line.
"Most of the narrative detail is in the 'Delivery Man' song," he said. "And the other songs that are attached to the characters are from their perspective. So you have to use your imagination really. I didn't feel (like) making a beginning, middle and end story. Then it becomes an opera. It isn't an opera. It isn't a concept record either. It's a series of songs connected by the narrative, which is expressed in 'The Delivery Man' song."