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Preview of concert from 2002-05-19: Seattle, WA, Paramount Theater
Seattle Times, 2002-05-17
- Paul de Barros


Concert Preview

Elvis Costello pumps it up with new album, outlook

By Paul de Barros
Seattle Times arts critic

Elvis Costello, after a flurry of non-rock projects, releases "When I Was Cruel." He plays with the Imposters on Sunday at the Paramount.

Elvis Costello made his reputation 25 years ago as a snarling, new-wave rocker. Does his new album, "When I Was Cruel" (Island), suggest he may finally be taking some old advice — namely, "Don't Be Cruel" — from his show-business namesake?

Not exactly, says the 47-year-old singer-songwriter, but he's matured. He's recently released his first new rock album in six years, and he plays a much-anticipated show here at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Paramount Theatre.

Speaking by telephone from Dublin after a rehearsal, the articulate, literate and often hilariously sarcastic performer talked about his new outlook and his new album, ranging amiably over a variety of subjects. His casual comments often sounded like scenes from his songs.

"It's very comforting to be very self-righteous when you're young," he admitted. "But it's because there's a convenient distance between you and the power and influence you are critical of. When you get a little older, and you've had some bad luck or some illusion of good fortune that takes you into their company — say, at a show-business bash — and you see that the guy who's just fired 800 people has egg stains on his tie, and his wife is drunk, it's a little sobering. You realize these people are just human. Maybe you gave them too much credit. It doesn't mean you should loathe them any less, but there's a bit of a feeling of — well, forgiveness."

Such nuances are typical of Costello's crisp new album with the Imposters, which, like the tour, features two members of his original band, the Attractions: drummer Pete Thomas and keyboard player Steve Nieve. The new member is bassist Davey Faragher.

Longtime Costello fans will be pleased by this stripped-down model, especially after his flurry of non-rock projects. Over the past few years, the London-born singer has collaborated with the Brodsky String Quartet, classical mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie Von Otter, Bill Frisell, Burt Bacharach, Tony Bennett and George Jones, among others. Currently serving as artist-in-residence at UCLA, Costello collaborated there last fall with the Mingus band. His ballet score for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" comes out next year.

Was he anxious to "Pump It Up" with some rock, after all this high culture? "I don't really hear this as a rock record," he said. "Actually, there's a lot more R&B, and there's a lot of swing, implied if not played, a lot more than on so-called rock records, which are stiff and square. I like something with a bit more spring to it."

The album's key tune is "45," a clipped, hard-edged riff on the number — as a benchmark age, a 45 RPM record, a gun and the year the Allies won the war. Its reference to aging ("it creeps up on you without a warning") along with the lyric of "Dust 2" ("I believe we just become a speck of dust") suggest Costello has had some recent intimations of mortality.

Perhaps, he agreed, "but the song is not meant to be morbid. Forty-five is just a convenient date stamp. You don't expect to find yourself that age. As far as 'Dust' goes, that means as much as you want it to. That's the very point of the song. I'm thinking of some pretty horrendous things, end-of-the-world type things. People being burned. Stacks of animals being burned. People being choked to death. If the worst thing that could happen to you is 'I won't be here anymore,' well, that could be the best thing possible. You just become a part of everything."

Costello's range as a songwriter is magnificent. Here are his responses to the names of a few greats. Cole Porter: "Tremendous. Sometimes people think of him as a little brittle emotionally, but I think that's just the society he was in. Think what it meant for him (as a homosexual) to be writing 'What Is This Thing Called Love?' "

Bob Dylan: "Incredible. People who say 'I don't get him' just don't realize that if he hadn't existed, they wouldn't even be talking the way they are. He completely changed the way people look and speak."

Burt Bacharach: "I'm always amused when people write he's easy-listening. Under the surface, it's just raging with feeling. And the words are so perfectly matched to the music. He shares that talent with Ira Gershwin."

Like all great writers, Costello deals with contradictions without trying to resolve them. In "Alibi," one of his best ever, he croons this nasty, but touching refrain: "But if I've done something wrong there's no ifs and buts,/'Cos I love you just as much as I hate your guts."

The title track, which weaves in a slinky sample from Italian pop singer Mina, paints a decadent tableau of power and money as detailed as any scene from a Michelangelo Antonioni film. "My Little Blue Window" and "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)" bristle with the songwriter's familiar impatience with hypocrisy.

For this tour, Costello and the Imposters will perform the new tunes, a potpourri of old ones and, he promises, "a couple that we haven't played on stage since they first came out on record." It goes without saying that he'll also be wearing his trademark horn-rimmed Buddy Holly glasses.

Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or pdebarros@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company


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