Afterword, June 17, 2018

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A night out with Elvis Costello again

Elvis Costello & The Imposters / Blenheim Palace


O, I just don't know where to begin…… The positives? Well it didn't rain and the support acts were great. Pete Thomas gets better and better and I quite took to Davey Faragher, who winced beautifully at every duff note.

To the beginning. With it threatening to rain all day, and the forecasters expecting it, there were only occasional spatters on the windscreen as I drove down, a surprisingly simple park and wander into the grounds. Not too packed and the arena made good use of the available architecture, with the outside lawn, if you will, as it spread down to the lake, pleasantly thronging with geese and humans in seemingly equal numbers. Food, beer and toilets a semi-circle of convenience, all looked promising.

Nick Lowe, on prompt at 6, clearly knew the demographic, opening with "People Change," the first of several acerbic tales of middle aged disappointment. Dapper in pressed white shirt and slacks, his quiff a thing of wonder to behold, white as his shirt. A fabulous version of the Dionne/Bee Gees "Heartbreaker" then led into a selection of old Rockpilers, you know, "Cruel to be Kind," "Heart," all just sung with precision to his simple acoustic guitar. Lovely stuff, even throwing in "Peace, Love and Understanding," saying he hoped it might not be its last airing that day. A chugging "I Knew the Bride" and he was off. No "Breaking Glass" as not allowed in the arena.

45 minutes and the longest queues ever, besignalling the PSA generation present. More alarmingly, they had already run out of the only decent ale, Laganitas budget IPA, 5.5%, meaning a dry day now onward for me.

"We're the Waterboys and we're a rock and roll band," shouted Mike Scott and he was true to his word. Quite the loudest version of his band I have seen, the sound was crunchingly precise, kicking off with "Medicine Bow" and "All the Things She Gave Me." Indeed the set predominated big music over folky fare, Steve Wickham now more comfortable flailing his fiddle in fusion-lite solos than I have seen before. And enjoying it. As, clearly, was Brother Paul, a grinning troll on epic hammond, all hair and teeth. I hadn't expected girly singers, normally less than impressed by the need, but these two were good. You know the ones that Dave Gilmour touts for his shows? That good. New bassist, (a wandering) Aenghus, meant that, sadly, David Hood is back home in Muscle Shoals, a solid counter to the the ever more impressive now quite longterm drummer.

A couple of the new songs meant we got a handle on Scott's slightly chopey lyrical direction, he looking a bit too slack jawed and drool these days to carry it quite off, but they sounded great musically, his guitar kerranging away with almost Neil Young intensity. After a brief choral singalong to "Shithole," it was a Scott on piano led "Whole of the Moon." The audience went apeshit, me apart, it being a song I loathe and always have. Thankfully he remembered this and, rather the finishing then, gave an epic "Fisherman's Blues" to close. "Give Costello my regards" his parting shot. As in follow that.

Another 45 minute loo break and the stage lights came on for the first time, as the band lurched on, Nieve in an odd red (army?) peaked hat, Costello in obligatory pinstripe and stubble, looking no where near as buffed as in the promo pictures. And two more girly singers. WTF? Stage right on a platform, all shimmer, satin and sway, it soon became apparent as to why. Sorry, guys, it's official. He can't sing. Flatter than Paul Whitehouse's fishmonger, he kicked off seemingly listening to a different version of nearly every song played. The balance was slightly off as well, meaning keyboards were largely muted, revealing only the more annoying plinky plinky motifs that are so prevalent.

Opener was "Wonder Woman" from his Toussaint collaboration, a bit of a google, needing his voice in better nick, it was largely a greatest hits nostalgia fest, albeit often the less obvious songs, a fair few from the 10 Hail Marys early collection. "Radio, Radio" was the first to really wake up the heavily partisan audience. It was not only Faragher wincing as Costello hit everything but the notes required. Beginning to weigh up the money spent and the long drive home, as they launched into an OK "Detectives." I joined a slow trickle and left. What I could hear of "Chelsea" and "Pump It Up" could not draw me back.

Setlist tell me what I missed. A solo "Alison" with the girls could have been good but I suspect would have curdled my ears. I would like to have heard "Little Palaces." And "Shipbuilding." I would not like to have heard "She." Home by midnight. No regrets.

The audience:

Oblivious, by and large. A mix of hardcore Costello fanbase message-boarders in old T's and porkpie hats, with garden centre weekend couples remembering better days. As said, a trickle of frowning saddos like me, rushing back to play old recordings and relive old memories.

It made me think..

I wish I wasn't so darn picky. I love Costello and, yes, identify with and admire his voice as it was, or as the studio delivers. A novice compared to @steveT and @dogfacedboy, I have only seen him six or seven times. Only twice was he brilliant, Glasto early 90s and at Symphony Hall with Steve Nieve as a duo. Twice he was awful, last year as it happens, and way back when, at the old Bingley Hall in Brum. I ain't going to risk it anymore.


The Afterword, June 17, 2018

Retropath reviews Elvis Costello & The Imposters and opening acts The Waterboys and Nick Lowe, Saturday, June 16, 2018, Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England.


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