Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 16, 2012

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Costello charges through catalog of fan favorites


Jon M. Gilbertson

For Elvis Costello devotees, there will always be at least a hint of disappointment with his live appearances, because the man has written so many excellent songs in 35 years that no single show can possibly include all the fan favorites (or even one fan's favorites).

So in that sense, Costello's gig at the BMO Harris Pavilion at Maier Festival Park Saturday night was a disappointment. In most other senses, it was another instance of how much and how well he and his work have aged.

As if at first defying his age, though, Costello tore through four songs in the first 10 minutes.

And it wasn't as if the songs blended together: The articulately spat anger of "Lipstick Vogue," the desperate hope of "Heart of the City" (by Costello's friend Nick Lowe), the confused frustration of "Mystery Dance" and the carnival commentary of "Radio Radio" required shifts both subtle and crude.

Costello got away with the shifts thanks largely to his reliable backing band, the Imposters, which was actually two members of his old band, the Attractions, plus a relative newcomer.

Drummer Pete Thomas simultaneously held down the fort and led the galloping charge, keyboardist Steve Nieve laid in fills and color without overwhelming the basic tune, and bassist Davey Faragher not only solidified the rhythms but also sweetened Costello's guitar and voice.

About that last thing: Never a technically beautiful instrument, Costello's voice has lost some range and intensity over the decades, and as Saturday's set went on, it lost a little more, but in general he deftly phrased around his limitations, whether exploring the lounge-lizard dissipation of "Clubland" or two-stepping through Johnny Cash's "Cry Cry Cry."

He also was sometimes content to let the attendees handle the more taxing moments, such as the high moans on Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," and he more or less fumbled the entire second verse of his own "Pump It Up."

Yet by the time he and the Imposters polished the night off with a raggedly enjoyable turn on the Byrds' "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star," Costello had provided energetic satisfaction to the crowd (which filled perhaps half the venue's capacity), even if he hadn't hit the top choice on everyone's personal set list.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 16, 2012


Jon M. Gilbertson reviews Elvis Costello and The Imposters, Saturday, September 15, 2012, Summerfest, Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee, WI.


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