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Review of concert from 2002-04-18: with Imposters; NYC, Bowery Ballroom; private function by Rolling Stone
Star Ledger, 2002-04-20
- Jay Lustig


He'll be cruel: An angry Elvis Costello previews his new album, summer tour

Saturday, April 20, 2002

Star-Ledger Staff

NEW YORK -- At Elvis Costello's Thursday night show at the Bowery Ballroom, posters advertising his new album, "When I Was Cruel," described it as his "first loud album since 199?," leaving it up to his fans to characterize his past CDs.

However you do that, there is no question that "When I Was Cruel" showcases a side of Costello he has rarely shown over the past decade -- a stretch that has seen him collaborate with everyone from pop elder statesman Burt Bacharach to classical artists Anne Sofie von Otter and the Brodsky Quartet. "When I Was Cruel," which will be released Tuesday on the Island label, is a snarling, vitriolic rock album. Just the thing, in other words, for fans who have been alienated by some of his more sedate recent projects.

The show was an unpublicized affair, open only to members of his fan club, Internet contest winners, music-industry insiders and the press. It was also a warm-up for a tour that will bring Costello and his new band, the Imposters -- keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas (former members of his longtime backing group, the Attractions) and ex-Cracker bassist Davey Faragher -- back to the area during his summer tour, for shows at New York's Beacon Theatre, June 18-19, and at Asbury Park's Convention Hall, June 20.

Costello and the Imposters performed nine of the 15 "When I Was Cruel" songs at the show, but also lots of old favorites, including triple blasts from both Costello's 1977 debut album, "My Aim Is True" ("Alison," "Watching the Detectives," "Waiting For the End of the World"), and its punkier 1978 follow-up, "This Year's Model" ("Pump It Up," "Lipstick Vogue," "You Belong To Me").

Other vintage songs such as "I Want You," "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" and "I Hope You're Happy Now" echoed the cathartic nature of his new work, and his 1982 ballad "Beyond Belief" resurfaced with a faster, scrappier arrangement.

Of the new songs, direct, accessible tunes like "Tart" and "Alibi" stood out, while other numbers allowed the band to try out some new sounds. "When I Was Cruel No. 2" had the clang and clamor of a Tom Waits song, while "Dust 2 ..." was a jazzy shuffle, and Nieve added some eerie theremin wails to "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)."

Only one song fell flat: the half-spoken "Episode of Blonde," which was so lyrically convoluted it seemed to lose the audience halfway through.

As strong as most of the new material was, this show's best moments still came from the older stuff: the joyful cacophony of "Lipstick Vogue," the change-of-pace soul of "Alison," the dramatic tension in Costello's tale of jealousy, "I Want You."

"I might as well ... be ... useless ... for all ... it ... means ... to you," he sang, slowing down and enunciating every word carefully, as the Imposters played softer and softer, then stopped playing entirely. The crowd quieted down, too.

You could practically hear yourself breath. Then Costello yelled, "Did you call his name out as he held you down?" and the band kicked in. It was an unbelievably intense moment; at the age of 47, Costello seemed like an angry young man once again.

Costello and the Imposters will perform at the Beacon Theatre, Broadway and 74th St., N.Y., June 18-19; and Convention Hall, Boardwalk, Asbury Park, June 20. Beacon tickets went on sale yesterday through Ticketmaster outlets, Ticketmaster Phone Charge (201-507-8900) and Ticketmaster Online (www.ticketmaster.com). Convention Hall tickets, priced at $45-$58, go on sale Thursday at 10 a.m. through Ticketmaster. Costello will also perform and sign autographs Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Tower Records, 692 Broadway (at 4th St.), N.Y.; call (212) 505-1500 for information.

2002 NJ.com. All Rights Reserved.


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