Since first bursting onto the punk scene in the 1970's, Elvis Costello has been making music for nearly 50 years. That may seem like simple fact, but it took on a special relevance for the large crowd that saw Costello play Saturday at the Borgata Event Center.
Recently, Costello, now 62, has been drawing on a song catalog that has gained him distinction as one of the best songwriters of the last 50 years for a series of solo dates he dubbed a "Detour." In that vein, Costello used his Borgata Event Center appearance to launch a two-week set of dates with his band the Imposters dubbed the "Imperial Bedroom & Other Chambers Tour," highlighting his 1982 album Imperial Bedroom.
For an enthusiastic Borgata crowd, it was chance to see Costello's emotional and deepest songwriting at his best, interspersed with just enough go-to hits to keep the crowd singing along.
Amazingly, even some of his most recognizable tunes were presented by Costello at their rawest and most haunting. A key example was the version of his 1977 hit "Alison." In recent tour dates, Costello has been performing the song as an acoustic version — just he and his guitar. At the Borgata Event Center, however, he pulled out and electric guitar and had his two capable back-up singers from his band the Imposters join him at the microphone (dubbed Josephine), turning a pop ballad into an emotion-laced tour de force. It was, perhaps, a unique performance for the night's audience.
It quickly became apparent, however, that Costello's performances are always unique, as he moved through his crowded catalog. Though backed ably by the Imposters, the show really was Costello alone with his collection of guitars propped up behind him (he may have set a record for guitar switches, choosing a different one for nearly every song).
The result was a two-hour collection of his songs performed with this night's interpretation of the lyrics and everything they say about love, how we treat each other and Costello's world. It's hard to imagine that anything he performed is performed exactly the same way at any other venue. Even for a hit like "Watching the Detectives," which Costello has stripped of most of its pop trappings, it felt like this audience was the only one that will hear it performed in exactly that way.
Throughout the night, Costello dipped heavily into Imperial Bedroom (ranked No. 38 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 100 Greatest Albums of the 80's) with songs like "Shabby Doll," "Man Out of Time," "Kid About it" and "You Little Fool."
The show created a rare chance to experience Costello's storytelling as heard on that particular disk. But then Costello could whip out something like 1994's "Seconds of Pleasure," telling the audience that all the songs of the night were part of the same story. Or as Costello said when announcing the tour, "the songs that led in and out of that velvet-trimmed playhouse."
Still, even with as varied a song list as Costello has to draw from, he doesn't forget to draw on his biggest hits. That was especially true near the end of the night when he performed 1979's "Accidents Will Happen" followed soon after with his set closing 1983 hit "Everyday I Write the Book," both of which he did in a more faithful rendition of the original recordings.
And then came, perhaps, one of the greatest encores ever seen at the Event Center, as after a night of contemplative song stylings, Costello rocked out with "Pump It Up" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" back to back. It showed exactly why Costello has been one of the most versatile and interesting artists of the last 50 years.
And the next time he goes on stage, he'll probably prove it again — in an entirely different way.