Melbourne Age, July 17, 2002

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A return soon enough is too far away


Jo Roberts

It's a rare feeling, and one I don't want to feel again too soon. To be at a show and feel so fulfilled, yet at the same time so ripped off. But it was my fault. I was the one who was silly enough to wait this long to see my first Elvis Costello show.

It was not long into Tuesday night's show that I was wondering how many other glorious nights I'd missed on his previous tours — because this show was something quite extraordinary. Sophisticated and primal, a rock show as much as a delicate recital by one of modern music's most distinctive, poetic and influential artists.

A little portlier these days than the gangly, stove-piped renegade who burst on to the British music scene with his 1977 debut album, My Aim Is True, Costello showed at so many junctures on Tuesday night why he remains such an important figure in modern music.

With a band comprising bass player Davey Faragher and two former members of the Attractions — Pete Thomas on drums and Steve Nieve on keyboards — Costello delivered a two-hour show that pinballed through his almost 20-album catalogue of out-and-out rock 'n' roll, power-pop, reggae-infused classics and timeless, heart-wrenching ballads the envy of any songwriter.

Costello, dressed in all grey and yellow-tinted specs, began with two songs from his new album, When I Was Cruel, the fabulous "45" and "Daddy Can I Turn This?" He then returned to his 1977 debut with the sinister classic, "Watching the Detectives," before again dipping into his new release with the Latin-laced "Spooky Girlfriend."

A highlight was a new song, written by Costello and his wife, Caitlin, dedicated to rock and soul legend Solomon Burke. "The Judgment" was an exquisite soul-rock lope that felt as transporting as gospel, made all the more stunning by Costello pushing his distinctive, gaping vibrato to its limits. A positive sign that at the age of 46, Elvis' creative well still runs deep.

Highlights? They all were, but resonant in my memory is the timeless "Alison" (which wasn't on the set list), "Accidents Will Happen" and from the new album, the rock-out "Tear Off Your Own Head," and the wonderful song of many moods, "Tart."

During the second encore (there may well have been more were it not for the venue's 11pm curfew), only a handful of people were up dancing, although that probably had everything to do with the austere venue rather than the band. Costello called for a chair and duly sat down and played.

"Those long things attached to your body!", he cried in frustration. People quickly got the message and began rising to their feet, Costello then responding in kind. I have to admit, it's the first time I've danced at the Concert Hall.

After sending the stalls into near-delirium with "Radio Radio," "Oliver's Army," "Pump It Up" and "Miracle Man," Costello wound up the night conclusively with the most tormented, obsessed version of "I Want You" you could possibly hear, trailing off the final, desperate wailed "I want you," as he walked away from the microphone. Sheer, pained beauty.

Costello's final Melbourne show last night was also the last of the Australian tour. When he next returns, if you've never seen him, don't wait any longer.

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The Age, July 17, 2002


Jo Roberts reviews Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Tuesday, July 16, 2002, Concert Hall, Melbourne, Australia.

Images

2002-07-17 Melbourne Age photo 01 mcj.jpg
Photo by Michael Clayton-Jones

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