When Elvis Costello and The Imposters toured Canada in 2003, the apparent inability to pigeon-hole the group resulted in their being booked at the Montreal Jazz Festival, the Ottawa Blues Festival and the Winnipeg Folk Festival. More a question of finding a venue in each city, the reality is that, while Costello has dabbled in songwriter styles far and wide, with The Imposters there's no real problem defining what he's doing: it's unabashed rock and roll, plain and simple. And on the recently-released concert DVD, Club Date: Live in Memphis, Costello and The Imposters deliver a two-hour set, in front of an intimate crowd of 200, of the kind of high octane rock that has characterized much of Costello's career.
Opening with the one-two-three punch of "Waiting for the End of the World from My Aim is True, segueing into "Radio Radio and tying up with "Mystery Dance, also from My Aim is True, Costello and The Imposters set the general tone for the whole concert — a raucous energy filled with Costello's raw guitar, Steve Nieve's Jerry Lee Lewis-style piano and just-the-right-amount-of-cheese organ and Davey Faragher's bass, which creates an unfailing pocket coupled with Pete Thomas' powerful drums. In fact, by the time the band hit the ballad "Country Darkness, it's an overdue respite.
From there the pacing is a little more balanced, mixing more powerful tunes like "Blame it on Cain and "High Fidelity with soulful ballads including "Either Side of the Same Town and "Alison. Costello even visits his country roots with three tunes where the group is joined by vocalist Emmylou Harris, taking the pace down a number of notches before finishing the night with another three punch: "Suspicious Minds, "Peace Love and Understanding and "Pump It Up.
When Costello first emerged, out from under the New Wave banner of the late '70s, what distinguished him instantly from most of his contemporaries was his voice — with a range, power and, frankly, musicality that was almost contradictory to most of the singers around him — and his writing — lyrics that belied more literate concerns. Here his voice and lyrical acumen remain intact. Now in his 50s, Costello has lost none of the range and power that he had when he first emerged nearly 30 years ago.
Recorded in high definition, the audio and video qualities are superb. And if the concert footage isn't enough, there are some bonus performances — including two more with Harris — along with entertaining "reality footage of Costello and Thomas driving around Memphis, along with interviews with fans in the long line-up for the paltry 200 seats available for the show.
For Costello fans it doesn't get much better than this — a hot concert in an intimate setting with Costello and The Imposters running through a 21-song set that touches on Costello's entire career. Fiercely energetic at times, remarkably tender at others, it's a vivid picture of one of the few artists to emerge from the New Wave scene of the '70s who has managed to build a lifelong career that is more than just a nostalgia trip. As vital now as he's ever been, and still putting out new records with the kind of consistency that few achieve, Club Date: Live in Memphis is great rock and roll and, as they used to say in the vinyl days, is best experienced when played LOUD.
Personnel: Elvis Costello (guitar, vocals); Steve Nieve (keyboards); Davey Faragher (bass, backing vocals); Pete Thomas (drums); with guest Emmylou Harris (vocals on "I Still Miss Someone, "Heart Shaped Bruise, "Wheels and bonus tracks "My Baby's Gone and "Sleepless Nights )
Track Listing: Waiting for the End of the World; Radio Radio; Mystery Dance; Blue Chair; Bedlam; Country Darkness; Blame it on Cain; Either Side of the Same Town; High Fidelity; The Judgement; Monkey to Man; The Monkey; I Still Miss Someone; Heart Shaped Bruise; Wheels; The Delivery Man; Hidden Charms; Alison/Suspicious Minds; Peace Love and Understanding; Pump It Up Bonus Songs: My Baby's Gone; There's a Story in Your Voice; Sleepless Nights Special Features: Road Trip Documentary "Off the Beaten Path, a Road Trip with Elvis Costello and Pete Thomas; Radio and the Fan