Buffalo News, July 8, 2006

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Costello-Toussaint deliver
funky blast of N'Awlins soul

Jeff Miers

Friday night in Avalon Ballroom, Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort. Another show at 8:30 tonight.

NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. — There are ways to acknowledge tragedy, to shine a light on suffering, that seem forced and, at their worst, opportunistic. Then there is the musical marriage of English pop maestro/renaissance man Elvis Costello and legendary New Orleans soul / R&B composer, arranger and pianist Allen Toussaint. That relationship crystallized around their post-Katrina celebration of N'Awlins soul, The River in Reverse, and the subsequent concert tour supporting the album, which brought Costello, Toussaint, and their musical collaborators to the Avalon Ballroom for the first of two nights on Friday.

There is nothing contrived about the pair's work mining the deep musical history of New Orleans on The River in Reverse, and that is doubly so of the way Costello and Toussaint, with the former's Imposters and the latter's Crescent City Horns in tow, translated that material in the concert setting.

It was fiery, fun, funky and fueled by a reverence for Louisiana soul that was never too heavy-handed or overtly studied. It was also a celebration of the indomitability of the human spirit and the bodies of work of two remarkable songwriters from remarkably different cultures who found much common ground.

Costello's name is the better-known one outside of New Orleans, but in many ways, Friday's show was all about the brand of soul Toussaint has been perfecting for decades. Aside from the set opener, Costello's revered take on Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" — which appropriately set up the concert's subtle underpinning theme of hope amid despair — the concert consisted of Costello and the Imposters (Steve Nieve, Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher) coming to Toussaint's table. They accorded themselves amazingly well in that endeavor.

Toussaint penned new arrangements and horn parts for several Costello classics, notably the poetic, piano-led masterpiece from Costello's late-'80s tour de force Spike, "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror," which was simply (and snarlingly) sublime. "Poisoned Rose," another impeccable ballad, this time from the King of America album, was also given a fresh arrangement, courtesy of Toussaint, who wrapped Costello's eloquent vocal and acoustic guitar in tasteful horn harmonies.

Costello the singer pushed himself to considerable heights when singing Toussaint's tunes. "Nearer to You" found him reaching for — and hitting, dead-on — high notes, blending jazzlike phrasing with old-school gospel, and it was pretty much mind-blowing. "On Your Way Down" was French Quarter soul of the highest degree, and Costello really wrung the sponge of every drop of emotion, while the band — particularly Toussaint guitarist Anthony "AB" Brown, who was so deep in the pocket, it's a wonder he ever found his way out again — swung with agility and grace. "Tears, Tears and More Tears" was another corker, sung with complete, full-throated commitment by Costello, and bolstered by vigorous kicks from the horns. Toussaint took the lead vocal on his own barn-burner, "A Certain Girl," which brought the audience to its feet. Another Toussaint spotlight, "Who's Gonna Help Brother Get Further?" tied the man's street-savvy funk to the evening's recurring references to class and race warfare, which was wrapped beneath the post-Katrina New Orleans umbrella most ably and passionately by Costello, as he intoned the title song of "The River in Reverse," which was the evening's highest high point.

New Orleans might have been abandoned by those whose job it was to help it, as Costello (like so many other high-profile rock composers and musicians, from Bruce Springsteen to Dr. John) has suggested, but its greatest gift to our country — the music that we call our own and offer to the world — is clearly alive and well. Costello, Toussaint and their collaborators offered us a glorious evening celebrating that fact.


Buffalo News, November 11, 2014

Jeff Miers reviews Elvis Costello & The Imposters with Allen Toussaint and The Crescent City Horns, Friday, July 7, 2006, Avalon Ballroom, Fallsview Casino Resort, Niagara Falls, ON, Canada.


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