|The Elvis Costello
Review of concert from 2002-05-22: Berkeley, CA, Berkeley Community
Theatre - with Imposters
Pump it up
BY LESLIE KATZ
Not many artists can get away with touring and doing a set list that bypasses a big chunk of work (all of the 1990s!) from a successful, varied -- and highly respected by anyone's account -- 25-year career.
Elvis Costello can.
In concert Wednesday at the Berkeley Community Theatre in his second Bay Area show this week, Costello and his band, the Impostors, concentrated on tunes from his new, already critically acclaimed album, "When I Was Cruel." The devoted audience seemed to know these recent songs almost as well as "Alison" (which he didn't play).
The foursome did dip back into the songbook, sticking to tunes from Costello's days with the Attractions that were scattered throughout the show: "Watching the Detectives," "I Hope You're Happy Now," "Pump It Up," "Man Out of Time," "Beyond Belief," "(I Don't Want to Go) to Chelsea."
The list makes sense. The album, and tour, are a renunion of sorts. Costello, after collaborations in pop with Burt Bacharach and classical with Anne Sofie von Otter, is back playing loud with a couple of the Attractions: keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas, along with bassist Davey Faragher, formerly of Cracker.
On Wednesday, they rocked -- and not just in the angry punk way that first trademarked Costello's sound in the late '70s.
Costello blazed through some bona fide guitar solos that almost veered toward metal, and went on for quite a while. Nieve's work on keyboards and multiple electronic devices made for a thick, often noisy wash of sound unlike anything we've heard before from the versatile Costello.
There even were flashing lights! No smoke, though.
But Costello's brainy, devoted fans needn't worry about their hero spiraling into vapidity. Because even though the music recently has become significantly electronic, the new songs retain the complex emotional tone characteristic of all Costello's tunes.
No matter what kind of music Costello is playing -- from rock to classical to punk to pop -- his songs tell provocative snippets of stories and evoke those pesky unreasonable, human moods that are dark and happy at the same time.
Costello opened with "45," a new song that touches on aging and old-time vinyl. He called "Spooky Girlfriend" a "modern morality tale." "When I Was Cruel," he said, is about guys with egg stains on their ties -- people you want to pick up by their feet and shake upside down. The new single, "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)" was full of well-received effects.
Other new songs that reflect Costello (and his audience's) maturity: "15 Petals," "Tart" and "Alibi," which Costello played during the lengthy, multiple encore segment of the two-hour show.
Things got a little out of hand to the point of being obscured in "Episode of Blonde," but Costello summed up the evening impeccably -- yes, perfectly -- with a killer version of the alternately seething and heartbreaking "I Want You."
Without doubt, concertgoers got what they wanted.