Are you feeling run down? A bit listless? Need some pep in your step?
I have a solution: Go see Elvis Costello perform.
The acclaimed singer-songwriter, backed by his band The Imposters, performed a stellar, high-energy set at the Hershey Theatre on Oct. 26 that had the crowd on its feet by the evening's end. I walked into the theater feeling tired and wondering how I was going to make it to the end of the show. Within the first few bars of the opening song, however, all that was forgotten.
Full confession: I am an unabashed Costello fan and have been since high school, when "Veronica" was hitting the radio (yes, I am old). But even with objectivity thrown out the window (yes, I might have bought a t-shirt, why do you ask?) I feel comfortable in declaring to you, dear reader, that this was a heckuva concert.
Here are a few things I came away with after watching Thursday's performance from the ongoing "Just Trust" tour:
1. Costello looked great
Elvis Costello (birth name Declan Patrick MacManus) had a rather bad health scare not too long ago, having to cancel some 2018 tour dates in order to recoup from being treated for prostate cancer. Yet if there were any lingering effects from that illness, they were not visible on stage. Resplendent in his wide-brimmed white hat, orange shirt and black-blue suit (only keyboardist Steve Nieve outdid him with a gold-colored jacket), and guitar strap that boasted an "E.C." on it, Costello commanded the stage, telling stories and jokes, walking up to the edge of the stage as if this verse was just for you dear audience member and conducting the ensemble with a few meager hand gestures. Costello seemed healthy and utterly happy to be on stage making music.
2. He is an incredible crooner
Costello is primarily known for his songwriting skills, which are considerable, but his talents as a singer are worth noting as well. His voice has gotten richer and fuller as he's aged, making him able to pull off Curtis Mayfield-like falsettos, as he did during the finale of "Alison" or go from a whisper to a full-throated holler on "Unwanted Number" (from his most recent album Look Now). Thursday's concert just underscored what a really powerful singer he's become over the years.
3. He's not too shabby on the guitar either
Costello has never been much of a show-off on his instrument of choice, preferring to stick to the melody and drive the song forward. But with a deep red, then green spotlight on him, he delivered a stunning guitar solo on "Watching the Detectives" that ranged from tense, sharp bursts to carefully controlled noise and back again. I hadn't thought of Costello purely as a guitarist before then, but that rendition made me wonder if I shouldn't reassess things.
4. Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas are rock gods
Are there any sidemen in history as great as this pair? Probably, but keyboardist Nieve and drummer Thomas deserve places in the hall of fame nevertheless. They've been with Costello since nearly the very beginning, as members of The Attractions, and have had notable careers apart from him as well (Nieve has written an opera and worked with David Bowie. Thomas has played with Sheryl Crow, Los Lobos and the Arctic Monkeys.) On Thursday night, the deeply focused Thomas delivered killer fills and licks, while Nieve ran from grand piano to all manner of keyboard and electronic instruments, offering inflections of jazz, soul and new wave as needed. They have proven to be an essential element of Costello's music and time has not dimmed their talents one iota.
5. The rest of the band isn't shabby either
Bassist Davey Faragher, a founding member of the band Cracker, and backup vocalists Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee offered some wonderful call-and-response and supporting moments during the evening, as well as giving a decided R&B-steeped feel to the music. I haven't been to every show at the Hershey Theatre this year, but it's tough to imagine a tighter band than The Imposters taking the stage.
6. Costello isn't afraid to mix things up.
If you're at an Elvis Costello concert, you know that while you'll likely hear the songs you know and love, it might not be in the manner they were recorded. The most notable, memorable example of this was his cover of "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down" (from the album Get Happy). Originally delivered at twice the speed, here he slowed it down, drawing out the syllables and bringing it closer to the original Sam and Dave version, bringing out the soulful heart of the song.
7. "Accidents Will Happen" was about an almost-fling he had with a cab driver
Who knew? Introducing the signature song, Costello told the story of how late one night in (one presumes) a haze he found himself being driven to the Mexican border and completely smitten with his taxi driver. Things seemed to be getting serious until she made the mistake of arguing with him about what to play on the radio (she was a Pink Floyd fan). She then drove him awkwardly back to his hotel, where he wrote the song with Nieve at 3 a.m.
8. We got to hear a new song.
Costello has reportedly been working on a musical adaptation of the 1957 film A Face in the Crowd for some time now and played the title song from that in-progress show. Introducing the tune, he seemed to suggest that it was going to being taking the stage sometime soon. So that's something we can look forward to.
9. The youngs don't seem to love the Costello
Maybe it's because it was a Thursday night or maybe it's because it was at the Hershey Theatre and not, say The Chameleon Club, but the bulk of the audience for this show was — perhaps unsurprisingly — filled mostly with middle age men and women, all comfy in their sweater vests and fleece jackets. I think the only person under 40 was the LancasterOnline reporter sitting next to me. It seems a shame to me that Costello's appeal should be limited to the generation that came of age when he first made the scene, but such are the vagaries of show biz. Maybe all the kids had to go to bed early for school.
10. The crowd loved him regardless
Hershey Theatre seemed the perfect venue for Costello and The Imposters, an ornate stage, fraught with history, where the band could dive into Costello's considerable backlog of material — delivering classics like "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" along with deeper cuts like "Strict Time" and "I Hope You're Happy Now" (yay, they played my favorite song!) and material off of Look Now while making it all seem of a piece, as though the years really weren't that far apart.
And the crowd seemed to love every minute of it, nodding and clapping along, and getting to their feet for the finale 20 minutes or so of the show, as Costello belted out one great tune after another. Clearly, a concert like this is the cure for what ails you, or at least it was for me (until I left the theater and remembered I was on deadline that is).