On good authority, from someone who was there, when Elvis Costello first played Sydney in the late '70s, punk fans ripped out the seats in the venue and threw them onto the stage. Contrast that with Melbourne in 2011 at the majestic Palais Theatre, on a Thursday night before the Easter holiday period, where the only metaphoric vandalism occurring is Elvis Costello ripping up the stage with an energy that belies his 56 years. Resplendent in a flashy suit and straw hat, Elvis leaps on in, tears into his electric guitar and launches into "I Hope You're Happy Now." Sitting (but not for long) as an observer, I am gobsmacked that I'm finally seeing a living legend whose post-punk anthems have influenced both fans and musos alike. His voice is distinct, unique, and powerful live, and exceeds my expectations. No one else quite sings like Elvis, perhaps no one else can, and that's a good thing in a world filled with imitators and wannabies.
Elvis and his bandmates, keyboardist Steve Nieve, bassist Davey Faragher and drummer Pete Thomas, recreate the old classics with aplomb; ballads are interspersed with more upbeat tracks, like "Either Side Of The Same Town" preceding keyboard driven classic "Everyday I Write The Book." My only beef on the night is that Elvis' electric guitar is too high in the mix, often drowning out all other instruments — I'm not certain whether the guitar volume is deliberate or accidental, but it does detract from what would've been a virtually flawless show.
"Watching The Detectives," written on a simple reggae beat, infiltrates the senses slowly and insidiously, proving to be one of many highlights of the evening. Elvis plays "Shipbuilding" at an audience member's request, prompting the seated theatre crowd to stand up and remain upstanding for the rest of the show. Old ballads are given an airing; "The River In Reverse" and a cover of George Jones' "A Good Year For The Roses" provide a tempo and mood change, preparing us for the onslaught of old classic, "I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea."
Another welcome change in pace and atmosphere is when support act Secret Sisters join Elvis solo for a couple of tracks from latest release National Ransom. This interlude features some witty repartee, which enhances established rapport with an audience of young and old fans; "Jimmie Standing In The Rain" is about some guy who travels the world with a straw hat and a book of poems by Dante, who "chooses the wrong moment to go into country music." "A Slow Drag With Josephine" is also amply supported by the gals with some spine-tingling harmonies punctuating the chorus.
"Alison/Suspicious Minds" punctuates an encore full of old treasures, with crowd pleaser and up-tempo personal favourite, replete with wordplay, "Pump It Up," inciting some contained, polite dance moves from the throng. It's the Brinsley Schwarz cover, "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding," that culminates a marathon set with the living legend that is Elvis Costello & The Imposters, showing the pre-pubescent acts a thing or two about entertainment.