San Diego Union-Tribune, May 31, 2002

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Costello keeps the playlist familiar,
fans keep the rocking to a minimum

Tiffany Lee-Youngren

Elvis Costello has always been a dramatiste with a flair for all things spooky — he even claims to be a long-time admirer of Bernard Hermann, composer for such creepfests as Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. But it was Costello who suffered a scare Wednesday night at Copley Symphony Hall, when a female fan on the floor handed him a gift five songs into his concert.

The offending item? A photograph. Of himself.

The late-'70s photo was evidently none too flattering. "Ugh," Costello groaned, wanting nothing to do with the thing. "I'm wearing a checkerboard jacket. I think my dress sense has gotten better, if nothing else."

But Costello, once the "angriest of musicians," is now a proper gentleman. He kept the photograph, but three songs later he flipped it face-down. "Sorry, I've got to turn that 'round," he apologized. "It's puttin' me off."

A lot has changed in the quarter-century since Costello's debut. But what hasn't changed is Costello's penchant for performance. And no matter how "put off" he may be by his checkerboard past, this is a man who can still put on a helluva show.

A man like Elvis Costello needs no introduction, of course. So after an opening set by L.A.'s Autolux and without a single opening remark to slow them, Costello and his band, the Imposters, launched into an in-your-face "45," the first track on the band's new album, When I Was Cruel. Released this month, the album seems to be a fan fave already — nods of familiarity greeted the first few notes of "45" and every new song thereafter.

After a quick guitar switch, "45" was followed by a raucous rendition of "Waiting for the End of the World" from My Aim Is True. Spurred to its feet, the crowd did its thing (though symphony-hall decorum would have concertgoers seated by the next song).

Costello and his three-piece band adhered to this new-song, old-song formula for the rest of the evening, amounting to a satisfying two hours and 22 tracks. Timing was the show's greatest boon — Costello and his band (bassist Davey Faragher, and Attractions holdovers Pete Thomas on drums and Steve Nieve on keyboard) transitioned flawlessly between songs, giving each a rousing finish.

Sadly, several of the greats were no-shows — "Alison," "The Beat" and "Radio, Radio" were left off the set list. For the most part, the songs Costello favored remained true to their album versions.

The few songs Costello did experiment with garnered mixed results. A creepy Munsters version of "Watching the Detectives" paired dancehall reggae with Nieve's macabre, synthesized pipe organ, eliciting a collective chill and thunderous applause. But two songs later, a revved-up take on "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea" sounded rushed and gratuitous.

Rousting the crowd midsong also proved tough for Costello. Only a handful were dancing midway through the set, and Costello attempts to involve the audience during When I Was Cruel's title track fell completely flat, prompting a weak transition to the song's refrain).

And even after 14 hard-rolling songs, the concert was more recital than rock show. It took a lot of arm-waving encouragement on Costello's part to get this bashful crowd to its feet

But Costello's "permission to rock" unfortunately backfired during the most climactic part of the evening, when a nimrod in the fifth row screamed, "Let's rock!" during a hushed, dramatic rendering of the finale, "I Want You."

Take a lesson from Costello next time, pal: Timing is everything.

Copyright 2002 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.


San Diego Union-Tribune, May 31, 2002

Tiffany Lee-Youngren reviews Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Wednesday, May 29, 2002, Copley Symphony Hall, San Diego, CA.


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