Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 14, 2017

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Sonics are beyond belief at Elvis Costello's
'Imperial Bedroom' show at Heinz Hall


Scott Mervis

A couple songs into Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom and Other Chambers Tour stop at Heinz Hall on Tuesday night, the legendary rock genius — well, that's what he is — looked out at the crowd and said, "I can see that the soulful torment of heartbreak is etched on every one of your faces right now."

It may very well have been "the soulful torment of heartbreak."

Or it may have been the soulful torment of "what the [bleep] is up with this sound mix?"

In the early days, during the heyday of punk, Elvis shows were wild, sloppy affairs, but since around 1982 (the last time he played the Cultural District), there's been a high degree of perfectionism to his performances, and surely the acoustics of Heinz Hall would enhance that.

But from the minute Elvis Costello and The Imposters stepped out with "The Loved Ones," a track from the masterful Imperial Bedroom album that was being celebrated, something was amiss. My mind immediately went to one of those Chuck Berry pick-up band gigs where he was playing in one key and they were in another.

Of course, the Imposters — piano virtuoso Steve Nieve, drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Davey Faragher — are just one man off from the Attractions (Faragher in for Bruce Thomas) and there's no way they could be out of sync. So, as they ran through "On the Way Down" (with the first of his frenzied guitar solos), "...And in Every Home" (appended with "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," from another notable concept album) and the beloved "Accidents Will Happen," all I could do was troubleshoot.

Could they not hear each other? Was the guitar out of tune? Is his mic too low? Did they miss the soundcheck? Was the soundman using the muffle effect? Why did it sound like that chaos that ensues when you click a song on YouTube when you were already streaming Spotify?

Oddly, Elvis was all smiles, with no sign of torment. A knowledgeable music-geek friend — a man who recently ranked his own Top 1,000 favorite songs — posted, "Three songs in, he sounds... lazy. I'm sorry, but he does."

But as Hall and Oates, who were playing PPG Paints Arena at the same time, would say, "I can't go for that."

Elvis wasn't hitting every note like Streisand, but I thought he sounded just about as bold and passionate as ever. To his left were backup singers Kitten Kuroi and Brianna Lee adding a touch of wayward soul and occasional go-go dancing.

Doing gems you don't typically hear at his shows, like "Human Hands" and "Tears Before Bedtime," presented as a slow torch song, he referred to the 1982 album's theme of "Slipping down the corridor from the bedroom to the war room … some of you will know what I mean." Yes, and we were all there to wallow in that brilliant but now muddled lyricism.

While bouncy things like "Moods for Moderns" and "King Horse" were a hot mess in that sound situation, the simpler likes of "Green Shirt" and "Indoor Fireworks" were more under control. "Watching the Detectives," one of the first songs we ever heard from Elvis, was a standout, between his surf-noir guitar, the green light on his face and the screen flashing posters from cheesy ‘50s detective movies. The colorful artistic renderings of his albums, were a nice visual touch throughout.

He closed with Imperial standouts "You Little Fool" and "Pidgin English" — songs that could have been grand — and ran off momentarily, only to come back for a more pleasurable second set with fewer Imposters. (I also moved to the back of the hall where the sound was a little less tormented.)

He did a lovely "Alison" just with the ladies, and sat down at the red piano to rework "Little Savage," sounding better on that mic. Nieve, who was bouncing between several keyboards all evening, got to stretch out his stunning classical chops on "Shot With His Own Gun." Album closer "Boy With a Problem" was another beauty, and rarity, as Elvis told us that the lyrics written by Chris Difford "too sad" for regular rotation in his sets.

After a tender "Almost Blue," the Imposters re-emerged to slam through a cacophonous "Uncomplicated" and turn the exquisite Imperial album opener "Beyond Belief" into an urgent punk song. "Man Out of Time" had some of its majesty, though Elvis chose to trip it up a bit by lagging behind the band.

He introduced "Town Cryer" noting that he was singing it "with a little trepidation … guess you're all celebrating tomorrow," referring to the Penguins' Stanley Cup championship parade.

Never one to leave us without a wild rock 'n' roll finish, Elvis hit us with the thrashy goodness of "Pump It Up" and "(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," oddly sandwiched around "American Mirror," a new political ballad about American purpose that we'll have to fully absorb from the studio version.

Because this show was initially scheduled for November and bumped due to the PSO contract dispute, we all had a long, long time to look forward to it. I went in convinced it would be the second best show of the year (after Nick Cave), showcasing one of my favorite albums of all time, and left feeling like we were better off back at Station Square with the wheel, the trains and the rain.

Elvis Costello Set List

  1. The Loved Ones
  2. On the Way Down
  3. ...And in Every Home
  4. Accidents Will Happen
  5. You'll Never Be a Man
  6. Tears Before Bedtime
  7. Moods for Moderns
  8. Shabby Doll
  9. Human Hands
  10. Green Shirt
  11. Go Tell (Your Quiet Sister)
  12. Watching the Detectives
  13. The Long Honeymoon
  14. In Another Room
  15. Indoor Fireworks
  16. Kid About It
  17. King Horse
  18. You Little Fool
  19. Pidgin English

Encore:

  1. Alison
  2. Little Savage
  3. Shot With His Own Gun
  4. Still
  5. I Still Have That Other Girl
  6. Boy With a Problem
  7. Almost Blue
  8. Uncomplicated
  9. Beyond Belief
  10. Man Out of Time
  11. Town Cryer
  12. Everyday I Write the Book
  13. Pump It Up
  14. American Mirror
  15. (What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding
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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 14, 2017


Scott Mervis reviews Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Tuesday, June 13, 2017, Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh, PA.

Images


2017-06-14 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette photo 01 sc.jpg
Photos by Steph Chambers.


2017-06-14 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette photo 02 sc.jpg


2017-06-14 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette photo 03 sc.jpg
Photos by Steph Chambers.


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