Live In Memphis
ELVIS COSTELLO & THE IMPOSTERS’ Live In Memphis (Eagle Vision) kicks off with WaitingFor The End Of The World, Radio Radio and Mystery Dance, the same songs with which he used to shake London’s Nashville Rooms during his Sunday night residency in 1977 . He was a hot name back then but nobody got out their lawn chairs and queued all day in the streets to get a ticket, as they do for a chance to see him up close at Memphis’s Hi Tone Café. In the age of the jumbo gig the 200-capacity club show is the rock and roll equivalent of having Alastair Ramsay bring you breakfast in bed.
The high definition camerawork captures every bead of sweat on Costello’s countenance and also the troubling hue of his box-like purple suit. The surround sound picks up the noise of breaking glass as the crowd feed off the considerable pulse that the Imposters are putting out. Elvis, who sings quite brilliantly throughout, finishes with another three from the early days — Alison, Peace Love and Understanding and Pump It Up. The meat in this new wave sandwich is provided by a series of duets with Emmylou Harris on old Gram Parsons and Johnny Cash tunes plus a handful of songs from The Delivery Man, an album they recorded down the road in Oxford, Mississippi.
The thirty years between those frenetic Nashville shows and today have provided many educational opportunities. Elvis, to his credit, hasn’t passed up any of them. The hidden treat here is a 50-minute film of a pleasure trip he and drummer Pete Thomas make down through the Delta a couple of days before the Memphis show to visit old acquaintances in Oxford, Clarksdale and Stovall. The format couldn’t be simpler. Their driver and guide indicates features of interest and the two musicians’ conversation ranges across Muddy Waters, flood prevention, David Porter, the King Biscuit Flour Hour, the mechanics of picking cotton, the FBI, the Bible and the likelihood of a singer being inspired by an actual tile recovered from the rubble of the studio at Stax.
More performers ought to have the nerve to do this kind of freewheeling thing. DVD’s the ideal vehicle for opening up and telling people more about yourself Anyone who’s got as far as your extra features is prepared to cut you any amount of slack. Rock’s good talkers — Costello, Randy Newman, Andy Partridge, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen or Neil Tennant — usually perform better when they’re not trying to look for the catch in the question or dutifully recapitulate their careers.