When you're an iconic performer that blurs lines between generations as well as genres — not to mention one that has played everywhere with everyone — it's understandable that it might be hard to get pumped up for an outdoor show in a scorching mulch pit in Middle America.
Indeed, I wondered aloud to a couple hardcore Elvis fans about the choice of venue.
Doesn't Starlight seem more appropriate for this Boomer God? A few years ago that's where Elvis Costello and his band went when they came through KC. So my assumption is his draw isn't quite as strong anymore…
That said, the Crossroads was pretty packed and near capacity on Thursday night, and the crowd was looking a little gilf-y. Not that that's a bad thing. But certainly the odd twenty-something thrown in the mix was the exception.
Just before the band (complete with go-go dancers in tow) took the stage, Grinder's main wildman Stretch took the stage to hype the crowd up and pimp his venue.
"Parking is always free, so never pay those guys out there for parking!" yelled Stretch, taking a jab at the entrepreneurial folks across the street selling $10 spots. "And if someone beside you falls down during the show, pour a cold cocktail on them!"
Yes, the mood was set as Elvis and the Imposters emerged onstage, the man himself looking hot, hot, hot in a full black suit and trademark funny hat. But the heat didn't seem to bother the dapper gentleman as he immediately launched into the set with little to no banter, starting with "I Hope You're Happy Now," and hitting "Uncomplicated" into "Radio, Radio" just a few songs later.
Initially, there were a few sound issues as the engineers tweaked the knobs and dialed it in, but by the start of the second song everything was good. And the crowd was mostly subdued until "Radio, Radio," which noticeably elevated the energy.
Then, the huge spinning songbook came into play. First up, a cute young redhead was pulled onstage to give it a whirl and play her part in selecting the next song to be performed.
A few songs later one of Costello's classics came up on the giant wheel, "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding." The band rollicked through the favorite, normally reserved for encores, with an energy that never betrayed the millions of times they've played this one. Keyboardist Steve Nieve arguably stole the show with his tasteful plinking and multi-instrumental talents.
I said "arguably" because it's really hard to upstage Elvis, the consummate showman. Throughout the night his vocals never wavered, as some aging singers do. He hit all the notes with strength and never seemed to be reaching — not once.
He kept the mood light with quip after quip as he invited lucky fans to come spin the wheel. Though I must admit that at times I wondered if this show would soon be heading down the road to Branson — free dinner buffet with a ticket to the early one! — particularly when, in an effort at self deprecation, Elvis joked, "This was written before Al Gore invented the Internet!"
So fresh, Elvis, so fresh.
As the night meandered to its end, the band kept up its pace with decent versions of "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" and "I Want You," before ending the first encore with the trademark "Alison" but segueing it into a surprisingly cool version of Prince's "Purple Rain."
Unfortunately (for them), a decent number of people starting milling toward the exits somewhere around "Almost Blue," so they missed a few of the highlights in my opinion.
I mean, can you really leave an Elvis Costello concert before you hear him play "Alison?"
No, you cannot.
By the time Elvis decided that everyone had had enough, I had a couple thoughts running through my mind. First, I got to see a legend. A real one-of-a-kind performer who still obviously takes joy from getting out and feeling the crowd reaction, a real showman.
Second, I wish I could have seen this show at a more intimate venue, with Elvis sitting on a stool and all the angles set up perfectly for all the acoustics and everything. With so many subtleties in Costello's songs it seems that some of that was lost in the muggy night air of the Crossroads.