London Observer, October 10, 2004

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London Observer

UK & Ireland newspapers


He came, he saw, he delivered

Ruaridh Nicoll

With a hot new album to plug, Elvis is still pumping it up like it's 1979

Elvis Costello and the Imposters arrived with a new release, The Delivery Man. But Elvis began his set by easing towards it, lifting the audience through six older songs before he hit the album's title track and brought the music of the American South back to its roots in Scotland.

This gentle ascent allowed us to take a measure of the Imposters. Tom Waits once called Pete Thomas "one of the best rock drummers alive" and you can see why, although, with his new haircut he looks disconcertingly like Alastair Campbell. Steve Nieve wore a kilt and was as watchable as Costello himself, approaching his instruments with the hand gestures of the Karate Kid as he amused himself with his modulating Moog theremin, which (I hope I'm right in saying) makes all the "wheeeeazzziiiinnnn" noises on "Country Darkness."

So we were led through the suburbs of Costello's punk youth and out into the country by way of "Radio Radio" and the oft-shouted-for '"Psycho." Then a roadie brought on a fabulous guitar, perhaps a Gretsch Country Gentleman, and the new material rolled out like Hank Williams's truck.

Glasgow's a knowledgeable town to play country in — it exported all that yearning — but Costello had already tested his material in a small bar in Oxford, Mississippi. The lonely, hardscrabble sentimentality rose like mist off the Delta. "In a certain light he looked like Elvis / in a certain way he seemed like Jesus".

By the time we reached "Either Side of the Same Town," which was the point where other bands might have been thinking of their green room, Costello's case that he can take his music in any direction he fancies had been argued. This song, also from the new album, would keep patrons of a truck stop in New Mexico happy. Next to me, a fat man with a beard began to sing along and several others raised their plastic pints in salute.

It's a pity about Costello's audience. It's great we're all so loyal, but disappointing that we are so homogeneous. There we swayed; middle-aged blokes whose Grant Mitchell haircuts were leavened by (quite) fashionable glasses. It's the downside of Costello's constantly inquisitive career that although he is seen as cool by almost everybody, his audience consists only of those prepared to take the journey with him. There were still tickets available and almost nobody was in their twenties.

What hasn't changed is Costello's voice. It may not be as close to cracking as it once was, but when he played "High Fidelity," from 1980's Get Happy, it was like being drawn back into a world where the Jam were king. Yet this is skill, not sentimentalism.

When the band decide to rock, they can make the Barrowland's famously sprung dancefloor trampoline. 'The crowd moves like the sea,' said Travis's Neil Primrose of performing there. "It feels like being in a trawler off Aberdeen." On Wednesday "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" summoned such a storm.

Costello's journey will eventually give him the immortality he seeks, but it is something else that makes him the live performer he is (and which made last week's show so memorable). He must love performing. Costello played 27 songs, brought the house down with 'Shipbuilding' and then, after a second encore, went out with "Oliver's Army," "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" and, finally, "Pump It Up." He'd have to love performing in order to play those songs after 25 years and still make them fresh.

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The Observer, October 10, 2004

Ruaridh Nicoll reviews Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Wednesday, October 6, 2004, Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow, Scotland.


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Photo by Alex Hewitt.
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