My Dirty Life & Times, October 2, 2011

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My Dirty Life & Times
  • 2011 October 2

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Pump it up until you can feel it


Tom Watson

Elvis Costello & The Imposters
United Palace theater

When "new wave" was a newly-minted but short-lived record sales category, Elvis Costello & the Attractions shared a bill at the old Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey with Rockpile of Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds partnership and blew the doors into the nearby flood zone with a nuclear version of "Pump It Up," one of the big hits off This Year's Model, a record that belongs on anyone's 70s playlist. Costello and his band were all crooked angles, bouncing and veering to the swirling keys of the bent, trapezoidal Steve Nieve who sent trills into the rafters while Costello's twangy Fender chords hung around down by the stage, bouncing off the wasted kids doing the pogo in the aisles. The experience remains front and center in the musical mind thirty-odd years on.

Last night, we finished a pre-concert libation at La Casa Del Mofongo before repairing to excellent orchestra seats in the cavernous United Palace Theater on Broadway at 175th Street in Washington Heights — better known in previous years as the earthly home of the Reverend Ike and his United Church Science of Living Institute (an outfit that also rocked, on occasion).

Ike has departed for the kingdom above, but the show in his palace got the soul stirring last night, courtesy of the skinny Anglo-Irish lad from Birkenhead, and his Imposters, a tight outfit that features the slightly less-angular Nieve on the swirling killer keys. It may well have been the setting and the hometown crowd (Costello has lived in New York for decades). But two hours and 45 minutes of non-stop songs, enlivened by caged go-go girls (including Weeds star Mary-Louise Parker, who shimmied in the cage while the band blasted through "Monkey to Man") and audience members who spun a huge wheel of hits to create a unique setlist, left us buzzing like it was 1978.

Of course, we didn't have these handy Internet blogs and boards to track setlists back then — nor were we particularly interested in the librarian side of rock in those New York days. But I was amazed last night with the breadth of work that Costello managed to cover in (at least) 34 songs, some of them spontaneously called to the band. The hits were there of course — and the clever covers (I particularly enjoyed the conjoined version of Prince's "Purple Rain" with a bit of the Beatles' "Rain"). But it was the catalogue that wowed, and the artistic energy poured into every song; "Clowntime Is Over," for example, had all the anger and lyrical lashing out it deserved, with Costello's vocal range on full, audacious display.

We're not completists as a usual rule, but this setlist deserves some attention — it'll have me scurrying to download or stream a bunch of B-sides and album cuts.


Tags: United PalaceNew YorkThe ImpostersSpectacular Spinning SongbookThe Revolver Tourthe AttractionsCapitol TheatrePassaicRockpileNick LoweDave EdmundsPump It UpThis Year's ModelSteve NieveBirkenheadWeedsMary-Louise ParkerMonkey To ManPrincePurple RainThe BeatlesRainClowntime Is Over

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My Dirty Life & Times, October 2, 2011


Tom Watson reviews Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Saturday, October 1, 2011, United Palace theater, New York.


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