Elvis Costello and the Imposters, Look Now, with “Regarde maintenant” EP (Concord), and at Northrop Auditorium, University of Minnesota (November 15th).
Look Now is 12 songs baked in a cake. Even with a 14-piece string section on the last track, the four songs on the EP that comes with the expanded edition aren’t burdened by the curlicues and sprinkles of the album numbers. The gem of the entire enterprise, from the EP, is “The Final Mrs. Curtain.” A gauzy, disorienting melody leads you into a story that takes place somewhere in the half-worlds of, say, Cole Porter’s “Miss Otis Regrets” and Costello’s own “Sleep of the Just” and “My Dark Life.” It’s not altogether clear who the murderer is, or the victim, or how many there are. The mood isn’t menacing. It’s not any kind of satire, but an untangling of the pun in the title as if it were a clue — to some other mystery, maybe.
Despite a request, Costello didn’t play the tune in Minneapolis. For a crowd of more than 2,500 where it was hard to spot anyone under 40, he opened with a harsh “This Year’s Girl” that couldn’t break through the echoey, muddy sound; brought songs from Look Now down to earth, and ended the 11-song encore set with “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”. The performance I’ll keep thinking about was “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror,” which turned into the kind of epic “I Want You” once was: a performance that can come back and trip you up, change your day, invading your memory without warning, and a song that, as a performance, felt as if it could go on forever without exhausting what it had to say. I have no idea how long the song was this night — six minutes? Ten? — but it dwarfed everything else Costello played. As it went on, his voice got bigger, then seemed to double in reach, range, intensity and desire — desire for the song itself, desire for the mirror to reveal all his secrets, or all of yours. It wasn’t a scary prospect. When the song did end, it felt as if he should have gone right into part two.