Review of concert from 2002-09-25: Eugene, OR, Mcdonald Theatre
- with Imposters
- Lewis Taylor
Concert review / By Lewis Taylor:
At the McDonald, a supercharged Elvis Costello earns his redemption
By LEWIS TAYLOR
THE LAST TIME Elvis Costello played in Eugene, he was feeling a bit
under the weather. He apologized for his sub-par performance - which,
in Costello-land means anything just short of perfection - and promised
he would make up for it the next time he came to town.
He didn't forget, and he didn't disappoint.
On Wednesday night, Costello paid his penance for whatever it was that
had been bothering him about that performance three years ago at the
By the second song, "Watching the Detectives," he was already
sweat-soaked, and he proceeded to perspire his way through 2 1/2 hours
of music that included new stuff (``45''), old stuff (``Radio Radio'')
and obscure stuff (``Waiting for the End of the World'').
He showed great range as he spun from one song into the next and displayed
a sorcerer's control of the room, repeatedly raising the energy level
to a crashing crescendo and then gently bringing it back down.
As someone who has always valued Costello's comment about music writers
(``Writing about music is like dancing about architecture - it's a really
stupid thing to want to do''), I felt a bit sheepish about covering
one of his concerts. But this one was too good to pass up: one of the
world's premiere artists at the cozy McDonald Theatre.
How this show didn't sell out weeks ago will go down as one of the
great mysteries of Eugene.
In the end, the fans did show up, and the theater swelled by the time
Costello emerged wearing his usual black sport coat and orange lenses.
His band, the Imposters, included Steve Nieve on keyboards and Pete
Thomas on drums (both members of his original band, the Attractions)
and new guy, bassist Davey Faragher from the band Cracker.
Rhino Records recently began rereleasing all of Costello's albums,
which may have informed his heavy-on-the-old-stuff set. He shuffled
his classic catalog with his new one, moving effortlessly from "Red
Shoes" (1978) to "Spooky Girlfriend" (2002) and switching
from "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror" (1989) to "Tart"
Costello got up for all of his material and, remarkably, he was able
to make 24-year-old hits such as "Pump It Up" sound shiny
But he seemed slightly more animated by some of the less-worn songs
off his latest album, "When I Was Cruel." He was at his most
glowing when trying the new songs on for size, striking poses, twitching
to the music and smiling his gap-toothed smile.
During "Tart," he swayed with the tune, which probed all
the various meanings of the word and brought the audience in for a sing-along.
Between songs, Costello offered his usual witty banter and word play,
but unfortunately, much of what he said and what he sang was lost in
the sound mix.
I can't speak for the entire theater, but from my seat in the balcony
the sound was at times hard to decipher. Things improved as the night
wore on, and were there some other performer on stage for whom lyrics
weren't so important, it might have been easier to overlook the muddiness.
But the etymologist in me felt a bit cheated for not getting to fully
taste the icing of an Elvis Costello performance.
Because of the sound issues, some of the most enjoyable moments of
Costello's rockin' show were the quieter ones. During more spare songs,
such as the slow, angular "I Want You," Costello made every
note count and every word matter with his methodical guitar playing
and carefully enunciated singing.
Of the other musicians on stage, Nieve was Costello's most worthy collaborator.
His organ playing was great, and he navigated the keys like the "professor"
that Costello accused him of being.
When Nieve wasn't driving the songs along, he was adding just the right
flourishes. Costello's other longtime mate, Thomas, added the perfect
punch to songs such as "Tear Off Your Own Head," while Faragher
was nearly invisible in a rear corner of the stage.
Costello switched guitars repeatedly throughout the night, a move that
can seem pretentious when performed by less skilled musicians, but one
that seemed only natural for Costello, who played with the intensity
of a surgeon.
Costello didn't just play his songs though. He acted them out, convincingly
During "I Want You," he even appeared to have made himself
angry, bleeding jealous rage as he screamed the line, "Did you
call his name out?"
Phantom Planet opened the show with a brief set of short, potent indie
rock songs that would have sounded right at home alongside the Vines,
the Hives or any of the other stripped-down garage rock bands currently
Movie star Jason Schwartzman (``Rushmore,'' ``Slackers''), the band's
celebrity drummer, showed up in a camouflage shirt, played furiously,
raised his arms in the air and screamed along to the music.
Lead singer, guitarist and former Gap model Alex Greenwald bellowed
the words to songs including "California" the group's catchy
hit from the film "Orange County."
Entertainment reporter Lewis Taylor can be reached by phone at 338-2512
and by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.