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Review of concert from 2002-05-25: Reno, NV, Reno Hilton - with Imposters
Reno Gazette-Journal, 2002-05-26
- Mark Earnest

 

Concert review: Costello rocks the Hilton

Mark Earnest
RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL
5/26/2002 10:39 pm

In recent interviews, Elvis Costello has said that he hasn’t been launching a return to “rock,” as many critics have said.

Well, you could’ve fooled me — and hundreds of others — after his monumental two-hour show Saturday at the Reno Hilton Theater. Backed by the Impostors, Costello rocked. Big time. He made people dance and sing along. He made people’s brain cells tweak. He probably made people weep. And all to one of the best-paced live shows I’ve seen in quite a while.

Elvis and his Impostors rocked so much that they did three encores of three songs each, almost doubling the length of the show and swelling the set list to 25 songs — and not a crappy one in the bunch, either.

For his first 70 minutes, E.C. and Co. showed the sense of balance that would leave both casual fans and crazed fanatics satisfied. Opening with “45,” a great new upbeat tune from his 2002 CD “When I Was Cruel,” he quickly launched into “Waiting for the End of the World,” an obscure choice from his debut CD. That was followed by a momentous version of early hit “Watching the Detectives,” delivered with that mix of drama and tunefulness that’s always made Costello great.

And that’s how it went for the whole show: new material, popular favorites and some left-field choices. The songs from “Cruel” were particular revelations, all improved from the versions on the CD. “Spooky Girlfriend” benefited from the intense live drums. “When I was Cruel No. 2” was slinky until its conclusion, a barrage of samples and guitar/piano noise. “Dust” was the biggest surprise, switching from rock to near-punk and back again.

True to his renegade style, the more popular songs were transformed somewhat, mostly by Costello’s tendency to sing behind the beat instead of right on it (think Lyle Lovett, but with actual expressiveness). It may have irritated purists, but the slow-burn version of “Alison” (complete with a section of Hank Williams’ “You Win Again” at the end) was languid in a wonderful way, as Costello made every syllable count. Forgetting his worthy work in the ’80s and ’90s, Costello stuck to his late ’70s golden-era: “I Don’t Wanna Go to Chelsea,” “This Year’s Girl,” “Accidents Will Happen,” “High Fidelity.”

Throughout the show, Costello was more than ably backed by The Impostors. They feature Attractions vets Pete Thomas on drums and keyboardist Steve Nieve.

Davey Farragher was the Impostors’ bassist and he was a revelation, knowing when to keep a steady groove and when to pull off — and often surpass — the technical demands of Costello’s earliest work (his playing on “This Year’s Girl” was particularly stunning).

My one quibble was with the sound mix. Nieve’s keyboards were buried in the mix until about halfway through, and sometime Costello’s guitar was submerged as well. In Costello’s case, it masked his surprisingly edgy and nimble guitar solos. His voice was as brilliant as it’s always been the last decade — capable of low rumbles and higher-pitched wails in equal measure, and always with extreme emotion.

Like the show, the first two encores mixed new stuff (a fast romp through “Tear Off Your Own Head,” a longer and better version of “Alibi”), obscurities (“Uncomplicated”) and classics (blasts through “Radio Radio” and “Pump It Up”).

It was the third encore, though, that pushed the show beyond good into stunning. First the band did new song “Episode of Blonde,” a samba-meets-psychobabble song that was playful and fun. Then, the band launched into “Peace, Love and Understanding,” with Costello soaring to new heights vocally as the band chugged along.

Then, the capper: “I Want You,” the ’80s ballad that lyrically pits longing against anger. Costello stretched out vocally, from seething quiet to full-blooded shouting. It was like an out-of-nowhere, heartbreaking ending in a thriller and it was a perfect conclusion.

Some lame hard-rocker once griped that “critics loved Elvis Costello because they all look like him.” Wrong, bucko: Costello deserves critical raves because he does the impossible — he experiments, he writes beautiful melodies and he flat-out rocks. And he does it better than 90 percent of his peers.

The show was opened by American Hi-Fi, who was much better than I expected from its pretty generic alt-rock debut CD. The best two songs were new ones from the band’s soon-to-be-released CD, “Beautiful Disaster.” The fact that the band had a lot of energy went a long way, playing like they were just having fun at a little rock club instead of the big Hilton stage.

Copyright © 2002 The Reno Gazette-Journal

 
         
 

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