He wore black, all black. So did Steve Nieve. So did Pete Thomas. It couldn't have been comfortable. I wasn't. I've had more leg room flying coach on a DC-3 than I did in row "L" at the Ntelos Pavilion. But entertainment is seldom about comfort. It's about entertainment. And Elvis Costello and the Imposters delivered in abundance.
Costello's tour supporting his Blood & Chocolate record 15 or so years ago was called "Costello Sings Again." His latest, in support of When I Was Cruel could rightly claim the title "Costello Rocks Again." With over 20 US shows on their current tour behind them, the quartet steamed into the attractive (but uncomfortable) new venue like a well-oiled machine.
Over the course of the two hour show, Costello proved many things. Among them; just how great a catalogue of songs he has written; how he is a better guitar player than many give him credit for; how much better he is when working with Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas, and; how good an entertainer he is.
Costello kicked things off with the cleverly titled "45," the opening track from When I Was Cruel, whose title alternately refers to the year, and the 45 rpm record. "Waiting for the End of The World" followed instantly, followed then by "Watching the Detectives," allaying any fears that the show would be a mellow affair.
The pace was frenetic, Costello barely allowing the applause to die before launching into the next song. A surprise was the performance of "Alison," usually reserved as an encore, as the ninth selection, mercifully squelching those requesting it after every number performed. The inclusion of "I Hope You're Happy Now" following his most widely known (and far from best) song was a humorous, but likely unintentional comment.
Steve Nieve, Costello's keyboard player for over 20 years, had little use for the piano stool provided, as he was on his feet, working banks of keyboards and assorted electronics (including a small theremin), in what at times seemed a race to create the most sound possible with two hands. Nieve effortlessly produced keyboard sounds identical to those on Costello's earliest records with The Attractions, including "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea," "High Fidelity," "No Action," "Less Than Zero" and "Radio, Radio." The two knockout seated performances of the evening were "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror" and "Shipbuilding."
Bass player Davey Faragher, in addition to being a more than suitable replacement to Bruce Thomas, provided harmony vocals, something nearly absent from previous tours with a four-piece ensemble, and most welcome on "Sulky Girl," "No Action" and "I Hope You're Happy Now."
I had yet to really warm up to the songs from When I Was Cruel prior to this show. The memory of them being performed has helped my current enjoyment of them. The eight songs from the new release were scattered throughout the set, and no more than two were played consecutively.
The gadgetry (vocal and instrumental) present on When I Was Cruel was reproduced in concert. Costello routinely activated a large console tape delay unit mounted on a pedestal beside him, allowing him to repeat riffs or sustain notes played. Costello's guitar solos on record are typically conservative and eclectic, and all but absent in concert. This evening's performance had Costello playing four solos of no more than 12 or 16 bars each. They were short but competent, servicing the song and not the soloist.
Two encores of three songs each were offered, and seemed timed to end the show precisely at the two hour mark. "Alibi" from When I Was Cruel afforded an audience response to each line of verse. "You Belong to Me" retained all of the fun and freshness of when it was released twenty four (!) years ago, and "Pump It Up" went by the books, but was no less well received.
The second encore began with "Episode of Blonde" from the new album. The long, tango-esque song did not persuade the throngs already heading to the exits to stay. Those not familiar with the song prior to its performance probably limited their enjoyment to Costello's rapid, or rap-like verse delivery. "Lipstick Vogue" followed with drummer Pete Thomas providing the sonic punch that is the song's signature.
Costello concluded with "I Want You," considered a masterpiece track from a masterpiece album, Blood & Chocolate. A long and obsessive song, its choice to close the show could rightly be considered a reward to those who stayed for the end.