Review of concert from 2002-04-16: London, Astoria - with Imposters
- Nigel Williamson
THE ASTORIA, LONDON
Forget the limp collaboration with Burt Bacharach. Ignore the ludicrous
album with the operatic soprano Anne Sofie Von Otter. Elvis Costello
has always sounded at his best with The Attractions. And so it proved
at this one-off date to launch his new album, When I Was Cruel. Backed
by The Imposters - in reality, former Attractions Pete Thomas and Steve
Nieve plus bass player Davey Farragher - he successfully tramped down
any lingering misgivings that he might have gone soft.
Sensibly, Costello surrounded the new songs with old favourites and
set off with such breakneck urgency that after barely half an hour he
was already into the eighth number A pneumatic version of "I Don't
Want To Go To Chelsea" inevitably raised the loudest cheer. But
Costello attracts the kind of obsessive following which meant balding
fortysomething males were singing along to every word of new songs such
as "Dust" and "Spooky Girlfriend". Which was kind
of impressive in a scary sort of way, given that the album had been
in the shops just two days.
The oddest thing was that songs that sound tuneless on the album here
came alive, with Steve Nieve's keyboards in particular adding extra
texture. This was most striking on "Alibi". The song is a
lyrically dazzling exploration of guilt and blame. Yet when Costello
had unveiled it solo during the Landmines concerts in January, it had
sounded unrelenting and excruciating. Here, with Nieve's embellishments
and Pete Thomas driving from behind his kit, the song was reinvented
and given a welcome new dynamism. The sequencer-enhanced "When
I Was Cruel" was also impressive, with a vocal on which Costello
sounded not unlike some crazy old wino staggering down the street and
muttering to himself.
"Pump It Up" and "Lipstick Vogue" were held for
the first encore and were incendiary. But, hoping that he had kept the
best until last, we called him back again. He didn't disappoint, ending
the show with an intense reading of "I Want You", the chilling
depiction of obsession from 1986's recently reissued Blood And Chocolate.
Yes, The Imposter is back. This year's model may not have quite the
same febrile tension of old. But it's still a bloody sight sharper than
crooning with Burt Bacharach.