For two rare evenings last week, the Melbourne Concert Hall was the A-list refuge for Melbourne's art-damaged forty-something hipsters. These cats dusted off the black leather and descended in droves. The normally sedated Melbourne Concert Hall became instantly cool by association.
They had turned up for a performance by The Imposters, a band led by Elvis Costello, the illustrious hitmaker, who in an ironic twist, never made many bits. However he did lose his virginity during the whole punk whohaw, and ever since that first glorious record (1977's Less than Zero), he has showed himself to be a proletariat of the pen, musically adventurous, and determined to pursue every creative impulse that pumps through his pores. The five hours over two nights. hardly hinted at the amazing breadth of Mr. CostelIo's four-decade oeuvre. Needless to say, the black-clad hipsters were not disappointed. Did I mention that his voice has aged better than Hugh Grant?
The band opened with 45, the frisky opener off When I was Cruel, the refreshingly raucous new album. The first taste of the back catalog came third with Watching the Detectives. On the first night, Elvis dipped repeatedly into his tenacious 1977-80 period, an artistic streak regarded by many as one of the most vibrant in popular music.
Both nights were packed tight with slow-burning epics, songs that unfolded languidly before growing a spiky menace. This affect was achieved through Steve Nieve's keyboard wizardry and Costello's baritone guitar. Nieve simply transported When I was Cruel and Watching the Detectives into new, far-reaching dimensions, creating sounds I had never heard before. For kicks, Nieve brought along a theremin, an obscure instrument that produces equally obscure sounds. I won't try, and explain how the bizarre thing works (I'm confused myself), but I will say it was the band's secret weapon. When we learned that it would not be a part of the band's set the following night, we mourned.
The crowd on Wednesday night again looked spectacularly decadent, as it they had just returned from a weekend in Jay Mclnernerney's hot tub. Everywhere you turned, gaunt cheekbones glowed like sunburned peaches (open to interpretation), Apart from the eternally scruffy Trevor Marmalade, I was the only person wearing white sneakers (a small crisis I am currently dealing with).
Elvis dressed in black. His jeans wore rugged. He removed his jacket once. He shuffled around six guitars, one was acoustic; the other five took hard, regular doses of reverb, a critical component to the latest album's success, His yellow- tinted spectacles couldn't decide if they wanted to be Oakleys or uber-cool John Cafe wraparounds. From a distance they invited comparisons to Bono, which is a compliment to Bono, l assure you. Three issues disturbed me about the Concert Hall, Firstly, no alcohol was permitted inside. Now this should unnerve anyone who depends on the heavenly marriage of booze and amplified rhythm, Secondly, the balcony acoustics kidnapped the guitar sound. Where was it? It was muffled and AWOL, Thirdly, there is this great paradox called watching live rock and toll in a seat. Might I add that yes, the seats were probably conducive to the older crowd's weary bones, but it's still maddening, especially when drummer Pete Thomas is staring down a rhythm and there's no choice but to bounce restrictively in your scat But these are only minor points; the music is what matters I am not sure if the girl next to me went by the name Alison, all I know is when the band started playing those familiar opening chords; she started to weep tearfully.
Radio, Radio kicked off the second encore. This triggered an excited bum rush to the stage front. A blazing, new wave retrospective followed: Miracle Man, Lipstick Vogue, Accidents Will Happen, Oliver's Army, What So Funny About (Peace Love and Understanding) Mystery Dance and finally, Pump it Up. Simply amazing Both nights ended with I Want You, a repugnant guile epic about either an obsessive fan or an obsessive rock singer. Either way, I nominate Robert Do Niro to star in the movie version.