Elvis Costello spent two hours on the Uptown stage Aug. 3 performing more than two dozen songs. He was supposed to perform in May, but he had to reschedule because of illness.
According to an insider with some backstage insight, Elvis Costello was so out-of-sorts before this show, he needed a shot (the hypodermic kind) to ease his illin’.
The show was going to go on no matter what, primarily because it was already a make-up gig for a show Costello postponed back in May, when he also got sick before coming to Kansas City.
Except for some minor and occasional hoarseness, Costello seemed fine once the show started. It lasted more than two hours, comprised more than two dozen songs and bristled with the kind of rock/punk/pop energy he usually generates as he trolls through a large catalog of his best originals and his favorite covers.
The acoustics in the theater, however, were another matter. Because he was feeling listless and low, our insider says, Costello and his band didn’t do a sound check. Maybe that explains why the overall sound, especially his vocals, was murky and tinny all night. Most of the time, his chatter between songs was incoherent from where I was (on the floor, a few rows in front of the balcony overhang).
Wednesday’s was one of the last shows of an 11-month tour that has taken Costello and his Imposters all over the world and that included shows with Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan’s former guitarist, Larry Campbell. The sell-out crowd at the Uptown got the austere/budget version of the show, just Costello and three Imposters: Steve Nieve, Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher. If all that travel and performing has worn out their enthusiasm and worn down their endurance, they didn’t let it show. Instead, they played like they had a long-delinquent debt they wanted to clear.
Costello is touring on his latest record, “The Delivery Man,” which signified his return to the kind of bright, brainy and brawny post-wave rock songs he wrote so masterfully early in his career. Those new ones, like the album’s title track and “Monkey to Man,” dovetailed comfortably with old and older material, like “Red Shoes,” “Every Day I Write the Book,” “(I Don’t Wanna) Go to Chelsea,” “Pump It Up,” “Radio, Radio,” “Uncomplicated,” “Clown Strike” and “Indoor Fireworks.”
Considering he was more in the mood for three shots of NyQuil and 10 hours in the sack, Costello was in a playful mood. As he introduced “Crooked Line,” a song he and T-Bone Burnett wrote for a film, he said, “They were too cheap to pay for it so we’re doing it for free.”
He also made fun of commercial radio and dissed modern country music before his cover of Merle Haggard’s “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down.” And during “Alison,” he took a seat in the front row and crooned to the woman whose seat he’d just taken.
He fused a few verses of “Suspicious Minds” into that song, part of an encore that included “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding,” a cover of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me” and a chilling, a cappella rendition of “Butcher Boy,” a traditional English ballad about love and suicide.
He ended with something just as forlorn but not as tragic, “The Scarlet Tide,” the Oscar-nominated song he also co-wrote with T-Bone Burnett for the film “Cold Mountain.” That made for a melancholic ending for a guy known for so much anger and energy. It made sense though, considering he spent most of the day feeling almost blue.