Nippertown, July 27, 2017

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Elvis Costello & The Imposters

Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown

Steven Stock

It's been 40 years since Elvis Costello said, "The only two things that motivate me and that matter to me are revenge and guilt," but those elemental feelings were amply plumbed, probed and portrayed during the Imposters' expansive two-hour-plus, 29-song set at Cooperstown's Brewery Ommegang last Friday.

This was the 32nd date on the band's Imperial Bedroom & Other Chambers tour (the fourth show was at Albany's Palace Theatre last October), but Costello kept things fresh for his long-time band and fans alike with a varied utterly unpredictable setlist.

Steve Nieve on piano, Hammond organ and Vox Continental at times threatened to steal the show, while drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Davey Faragher were rock-steady. Costello's spiky, minimalist guitar work infused his lush Bacharachesque melodies with a welcome dose of punk energy, which helped offset the overbearing and overused backing vocals from Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee.

"(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes," played for only the third time this tour, was a suitably wry way to begin the festivities thanks to its opening couplet: "Oh I used to be disgusted / Now I try to be amused." Quite a crowd-pleaser, in marked contrast to "Bedlam" (second airing this tour) which seemed to perplex the audience despite Costello's intense passionate singing. The opening lines:

I've got this phosphorescent portrait of
  gentle Jesus meek and mild
I've got this harlot that I'm stuck with
  carrying another man's child

probably weren't intended to drive much of the crowd to the concession stands for cheese fries and beer, but "Bedlam" ultimately had that effect. The most appealing curveball in the performance was "Talking In the Dark" with a rueful Costello crooning

We can talk like we're in love or talk like we're above it
We can talk and talk until we talk ourselves out of it

Much of the set was, of course, devoted to songs from 1982's Imperial Bedroom, the most lavishly arranged of Costello's albums and in many ways the most Beatlesque (coincidentally, producer Geoff Emerick was concurrently working on Paul McCartney's Tug of War). Three of the four band members played on the album (bassist Davey Faragher wasn't lured into Costello's orbit until 2001), and it was fascinating to hear them translate the widescreen production of Imperial Bedroom into versions that a scrappy four-piece could do justice to. Nieve's wizardry was the key to this process, as he conjured a wide variety of textures from his array of keyboards.

After a rough patch in the first encore with "A Face in the Crowd" and "Blood & Hot Sauce," the band regained momentum with "Shot with His Own Gun" and the aforementioned "Talking In the Dark." The subsequent salvo, four songs from Imperial Bedroom, was downright sublime. With understated backing from Nieve, Costello sang "Almost Blue" with beguiling simplicity.

Almost blue
Almost doing things we used to do
There's a girl here and she's almost you
Almost all the things that your eyes once promised
I see in hers too
Now your eyes are red from crying

"Kid About It," like many of Costello's songs, superficially sounded tender and yet retained a cutting edge, the last verse concluding

We fight so frail
Making love tooth and nail
You gave me the kiss of my life
I might even live to tell the tale

Next up was "Beyond Belief," the headlong rush of the music propelling Costello into a relationship even though he knows how things will end.

I've got a feeling
I'm going to get a lot of grief
Once this seemed so appealing
Now I am beyond belief

Any vestiges of tenderness had faded once the band launched into a coruscating version of "Man Out of Time":

Love is always scarpering or cowering or fawning
You drink yourself insensitive and
  you hate yourself in the morning

One wasn't sure how Costello could follow that stretch of musical and lyrical bravado, but the second encore served to cleanse the palate, first with the elegaic "Town Cryer," then with up-tempo romps through "Everyday I Write the Book," "Pump It Up" and the evening's sole cover, Brinsley Schwarz's "(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding."

Amy Helm's opening set was too brief to fully do her justice, but she sang beautifully, and Cindy Cashdollar's slide guitar was glorious. Love to see more of both of them.

Tags: Brewery OmmegangCooperstownNew YorkThe ImpostersKitten KuroiBriana LeeImperial Bedroom & Other Chambers TourAlbanyPalace TheatreSteve NievePete ThomasDavey FaragherBurt Bacharach(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red ShoesBedlamTalking In The DarkImperial BedroomGeoff EmerickPaul McCartneyA Face In The CrowdBlood & Hot SauceShot With His Own GunAlmost BlueKid About ItBeyond BeliefMan Out Of TimeTown CryerEveryday I Write The BookPump It UpBrinsley Schwarz(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?Amy Helm


Nippertown, July 27, 2017

Steven Stock reviews Elvis Costello & The Imposters with Kitten Kuroi, Briana Lee and opening act Amy Helm, Friday, July 21, 2017, Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, New York.


2017-07-27 Nippertown photo 01 ap.jpg
Photos by Andrzej Pilarczyk.

2017-07-27 Nippertown photo 02 ap.jpg

2017-07-27 Nippertown photo 03 ap.jpg

2017-07-27 Nippertown photo 04 ap.jpg
Photos by Andrzej Pilarczyk.


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