Orange County Register, May 29, 2008

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Elvis Costello throws a surprise party
at the El Rey


Ben Wener

I came away from Elvis Costello's superb but too-brief warm-up set for the Police Tuesday night at the Hollywood Bowl wondering when we might get a full-blown headlining turn to support his strong new album Momofuku. A night at the Greek, for instance, seems long overdue. At the very least, another, songbook-surverying Wiltern appearance would seem in order.

Then I woke up Wednesday morning to find I'd been invited to just the show I wanted to see: Costello and the Imposters ("With Friends," as the marquee noted) at the El Rey. Show time: 11:45 p.m.

If I raced across town fast enough after doing my duty at Kenny Chesney and LeAnn Rimes at Staples Center, I figured I might just make it. I wouldn't get home till who-knows-when, of course — no telling what or for how long Costello might play under such last-minute circumstances. But knowing there's nothing in the near-future planned from him I instantly decided I'd pay the price later. Opportunities like this don't come along every day. So what if I won't get to bed until almost 4 a.m.

Man, am I glad I made the effort ...

Costello, in roaring form once more (and seemingly in the same black suit and bolo tie he wore at the Bowl), served up 27 songs in two hours in one of the finest performances I've seen him give in a quarter-century of keeping tabs. I heard "I Hope You're Happy Now" and "Clown Strike" only from outside, while waiting in line with the other guest-listers and die-hards hoping for a miracle. Yet even from there I could tell he was clearly in great spirits, eager to deliver something special to a packed house brimming with friends of friends and celeb admirers (I spotted No Doubt's Tony Kanal jockeying for position not long after the set started).

What resulted was both a terrific career overview in the first half, spanning all corners of his catalog, and what I'm sure will come to be a rare spotlight of Momofuku in the second half, with everyone who played on the record (save for Jenny Lewis, who's on tour herself) taking part. Tennessee Thomas joined her workhorse Attractions dad Pete on drums. Lewis' beau Johnathan Rice and Jonathan Wilson added guitar to Davey Faragher's steady, melodic bass lines. "Farmer Dave" Scher's pedal steel greatly complemented Steve Nieve's array of keyboard flourishes.

You could tell here and there that Costello hasn't quite committed every new lyric he's penned to memory; he needed a reference sheet once or twice for "Drum & Bone," for instance. But that's easily forgiven, considering how this new batch of tunes instantly arrived, and how little they've probably been rehearsed. And still stormy new ones like "Turpentine" and "Go Away" and an improved "Pardon Me, Madam, My Name Is Eve" (a Loretta Lynn co-write) and "Song for Rose" (assisted by Rosanne Cash) and quirkier, moodier, Spike-ier fare like "Harry Worth" and "Mr. Feathers" — and, best of all, "Flutter and Wow," one of his rarities, a great and tender love song — they all came across as if they've been in his repertoire since at least King of America.

As for the quality of the selections he pulled out that have been around for years, in many cases decades, well, this longtime devotee has no complaints. The rundown is pretty stunning: "Either Side of the Same Town" ... another airing of "Everyday I Write the Book," more soulful than the night before ... a torrential "Spooky Girlfriend," followed by an even more ripping run through "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea" ... excellent renditions of "Motel Matches" and "New Lace Sleeves," the latter seamlessly segueing into "Green Shirt" ... an impassioned reading of "Brilliant Mistake," with a peppier pace and a hint of Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue" in its coda ... tremendous takes on "Beyond Belief" and "The Imposter" to close out the first half ... a rollicking tear through the staple "Mystery Train" and then "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" to call it a night at 2 a.m.

If I seem rather overcome, well, four hours of sleep after six hours of show will do that to you. Suffice to say, of the dozens of Costello encounters I've had over the years, this one instantly leaps into my Top 3.

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Orange County Register, May 29, 2008


Ben Wener reviews Elvis Costello & The Imposters with Johnathan Rice, Jonathan Wilson, "Farmer" Dave Scher and Tennessee Thomas, Wednesday, May 28, 2008, El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles.

Images

2008-05-28 Los Angeles (El Rey Theatre) marquee 3.jpg


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