New York Times, April 22, 2002

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Hasn't left the building, hasn't mellowed with age

Jon Pareles

For Elvis Costello, the elixir of youth isn't a potion. It's a guitar sound: the tremolo setting on an overdriven amplifier. He used it in the late 1970's for songs like "Watching the Detectives," and he has revived both that sound and the attack of his first band, the Attractions, on his new album, When I Was Cruel (Island). At the Bowery Ballroom on Thursday night, with three-quarters of the Attractions in his band, the Imposters, Mr. Costello not only reclaimed the ferocity of his youth but also honed it with the cunning of long experience.

In the quarter-century since Mr. Costello emerged alongside punk-rock, he has delved into country, soul, pop and orchestral music, and he has collaborated with musicians as varied as Paul McCartney, George Jones, Burt Bacharach and the Mingus Big Band. Vehement songs with garage-rock roots have become just one of Mr. Costello's specialties.

But when he played new songs alongside 1978 material from This Year's Model, his first album with the Attractions, he showed no sign of mellowing with age. If he couldn't reach a high note, he shouted it; his guitar clawed out its riffs and snarled through solos.

Mr. Costello didn't pretend to be the songwriter who long ago declared his songs were all about "revenge and guilt." He has more on his mind now than he did when he wrote "Pump It Up" or "Alison": not just the grudges of those on the wrong end of unrequited lust or unchecked power, but the vagaries of history and the meaning of life.

The opening song of both the album and his Bowery set, "45," referred to World War II's end, to 45-r.p.m. singles and to the singer's turning 45 years old. (Mr. Costello is now 47.) In "Dust," he concluded, "I believe we just become a speck of dust." And the younger Mr. Costello, dedicated to rock's 4/4 time, wouldn't have come up with the insistent six-beat riff and quavering, Arab-tinged vocal line of "15 Petals," which built an incendiary momentum in mid-set.

The Imposters — Steve Nieve on keyboard, Pete Thomas on drums and Davey Faragher (the newer member) on bass — could summon the full-tilt, organ-topped sound of the early Attractions. But just as often, they attacked a song like a school of piranhas, biting into it from all directions with constantly changing arrangements: terse bass and drums that were suddenly enveloped in piano chords, then switched to a guitar-driven stomp. There was strategy everywhere but no routine or complacency. What had once been taken for granted, like youth, was now something to fight for.

Mr. Costello and the Imposters are to perform at the Beacon Theater on June 18 and 19.

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New York Times, April 22, 2002

Jon Pareles reviews Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Thursday, April 18, 2002, Bowery Ballroom, New York.

James Barron reports on EC's no-smoking request at the Bowery Ballroom.


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Photo by Rahav Segev.

New York Times, April 23, 2002

A smokeless flashback

James Barron

2002-04-23 New York Times page B2 clipping 01.jpg

It could have been '79, except everyone looked a little paunchier, a little jowlier, both on the stage and in the audience. But there was Elvis Costello — horn-rimmed glasses, Fender guitar and all. He blasted away at an invitation-only show at the Bowery Ballroom last week to mark today's release of his new album, When I Was Cruel, a collection of beat-driven numbers best enjoyed in the sweaty confines of a dance club.

It was reminiscent of the April Fool's Day night 23 years ago when Mr. Costello played three gigs in three Manhattan clubs in a few hours. Still, something was missing. Not the fire of the lyrics, new and old, but the smoke. That is because smoking was banned. Signs explained that the prohibition was "at the request of the artist." — that highly agitated man on the stage.

"I guess Elvis couldn't deal with smoke in the room," said Kenny Lienhardt, the club's production manager.

He said the no-smoking request, which came from Mr. Costello's people on the day of the show, was unusual because it applied not only to the main floor, where Mr. Costello performed, but also to the first-floor lounge, where he did not. Mr. Costello, it seems, has given up smoking. In recent interviews, he has said that he has also quit drinking, but he did not make sobriety a requirement for attendance: the Bowery Ballroom's three bars did big business.

Page scans.
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