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Bibliography: Articles


Review of concert from 2003-07-06: Chicago, IL, Taste Of Chicago, Main Stage - with the Imposters
Windy City Times, 2003-08-13
- Hester



Bent Nights

Elvis Costello at A Taste of Chicago
BY Hester

Fresh off the hype of last year’s “comeback” When I Was Cruel, Elvis Costello’s blow-out at A Taste marked him as a victim of his own cumbersome brilliance. When My Aim is True appeared in 1976 it heralded him as a blue-rinse punk with the sentiment of a Henry Mancini with fangs. With Nick Lowe producing, This Year’s Model (1977) and Armed Forces (1978) welded sex and politics in an unlikely nuclear fusion. 1979’s Get Happy was the capper; 20 three-minute dramas of E.C. pursuing a woman (or many women) with the breathless desperation of a gay man. Though it’s unintentional, Get Happy is the blueprint for gay love/sex in the new century. Romantically clumsy and naive (on “I Can’t Stand Up” he snarls, “I’m mad, ‘cause it hurt a little too much...”) he cheapens who he can get (“Motel Matches”) but makes every absurd promise in the universe to get who is unattainable (“I’ll promise you anything ... even a wedding ring ...”). And at the top of side two sits the punchline: “The Imposter.” When E.C. coyly sings “When I said that I was lying I might have been lying ...” it’s obvious this clown can’t be trusted. As a redefinition of punk/pop/soul with a sledgehammer beat and the sweaty obsession of a wound-up neurotic, Get Happy was the point where punk stopped evolving. Time has made it more scathing and luscious than when it came out and its brilliance couldn’t be topped—not even by E.C..

To be fair there were masterworks (Imperial Bedroom, Spike), merely good albums (Punch the Clock, Brutal Youth, Trust), and save for a track or two flaming wrecks (Almost Blue, Blood and Chocolate). But by the time E.C. turned up in collaboration with Burt Bacharach (nabbing a Grammy in the process—how’s that for respectability) he was less an edgy literate man for our age and more of a retro clown. Cruel wasn’t a comeback—it was an apology, which is why the Taste gig did more to validate E.C. than anything he’s recorded in a decade.

In short it was a “Greatest Hits” show, with cuts literally plucked from all of his albums (except Cruel), tossed off without much fanfare or, except for his singing, charm. But what seemed like an indistinct gig for him turned into a summer blow-out for the thousands in attendance.

“Radio Radio” a song about media censorship got a furious workout and it was amusing how the nearly naked hordes slam-watusied to it. “I Can’t Stand Up,” “(What’s so Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding”—dedicated to the Dixie Chicks, “Beyond Belief,” “Clubland,” “Everyday I Write the Book,” “Clownstrike,” “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” “Pump it Up”—live they were propulsive, savage, and fresh.

But the ballads, even in this impersonal setting, betrayed E.C.’s soul. “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror” was full of hurt and betrayal, but “Allison” stole the show. With unrestrained resignation and whisky sighs it was comparable to Billie Holiday at her most fatigued. When he cooed “My aim is true...” you couldn’t deny that he still meant it even after 27 years. And if that wasn’t enough he slid right into a delicate sculptured reading of Smokey Robinson’s “The Tracks of My Tears,” with the mucus and tears running. These moments were better than anything E.C. has recorded in a good 15 years.

After three encores and more surprise covers (“You Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Suspicious Minds”), Elvis left the building. But he’s hardly what he started out as. Glaring from the cover of This Year’s Model with pointed rage, he seemed like a foul-tempered twerp. Now, pushing 50, somewhat jowly, and undeniably seasoned and sentimental, he’s become one of us. Now is that scary for us or the times we live in?


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