Songs You Should Know But Probably Don't, May 24, 2011

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Songs You Should Know But...



Elvis Costello & The Imposters

Beacon Theatre, New York

Johann Blain

Monday morning I woke up at six in the for my tee time with a sore throat, a bad sign indeed. I wasn't smoking the night before, yelling or anything else that would lead to such an affliction. In short I was developing a dreaded summer cold. I said to myself and whatever omniscient spirits in the room, to the very virals of the infectious disease to just lay off until tomorrow of which they can then have my body. Not only did I want to have a decent round, as it was already raining and miserable out, a cold would make it exponentially worse; but also because I had a show at the Beacon later on in the evening, the first concert I was to attend for quite some time.

The round was okay, my back nine (as always) significantly better. Lunch went quite well, the Rib Eye special served well as my nasal passages were slowly closing and malaise permeating every ounce of my 240 pounds.

But it held off as I begged earlier in the day. I arrived at The Beacon caught up with strong emotions and memories. Fifteen years ago with the same cowboy boots sticking to the floor I was in the middle orchestra rows watching Dickey Betts, Greg and Warren Haynes take over the venue for the entire month of March. There have been some epic names at The Beacon over the years: The Stones, James Taylor, Springsteen, David Bowie, ZZ Top, Jackson Browne... the list is long and exhausting.

Tonight it was Elvis Costello, an undefinable artist who can't be pegged to a particular genre. Ska, Punk, almost the inventor of 80's music, country, classical, easy listening; Costello can be placed in every one of these columns without argument.

Alone I walked into The Beacon and towards my seat, on stage left there was a massive wheel with over forty songs on it Wheel Of Fortune-style but vertical, stage right sat a go go dancer's cage, behind it a two seat bar with martini glasses and an old 60's black and white television producing nothing but white static. Again I took my seat in the middle orchestra rows though this time mere feet away from the stage. This being Manhattan there were the obligatory suits texting away, a few hipster and industry people off to the side looking far too cool for comfort. I spotted T Bone Burnett and his wife Sam Phillips a few seats away from me (who would take the stage during the last encore with Costello's wife Diana Krall, though they just hung off to the side dancing).

The theme of the tour is Costello playing a few songs, then picking out people from the crowd to spin the wheel... strangely enough the people picked didn't seem too random (Willie Garson was one, as were some other randoms who seemed to have important names). Also strangely enough the wheel produced every song we all wanted to hear.

Costello stormed about the stage to "I Hope You're Happy Now" while the go go dancer assumed her cage, it flowed into "Heart of the City" / "Mystery Dance" finishing off with an earth shattering "Radio, Radio" until he took off the fedora and replaced it with a stove pipe hat and became the MC of the evening rambling through propaganda speak and catchy inside jokes most of the audience understood.

The first spin hit a part of the wheel entitled: "Detectives vs. Hoover Factory" when brought to a vote it was unanimously decided "Watching the Detectives" was going to be the tune. The spinner, a terribly elegant looking older woman with a last name four words long in tight black pants and equally tight black shirt covered by a shall took her seat at the bar on stage and had a drink until she was urged to join the young woman adorned with go go boots and a skimpy psychedelic mini dress in the cage to shimmy. The pace started picking up while that familiar bass line echoed off of the Neo-Grecian interior and then we all starting rising to our feet.

He rolled through some big songs with the next spin, the theme being Time("Clowntime is Over," "Strict Time," Man Out of Time") until the wheel was forced to pick the next tune, one of my favorites "Oliver's Army." It brought down the house at such an early part of the timeline of the show, intelligently followed by a solo acoustic version of "A Slow Drag with Josephine" that comes from a his most recent album National Ransom done with Burnett and hearkens to more country roots.

The acoustic theme continued with Costello's brother and his band The BibleCode Sundays taking the stage for some Celtic grooves and a bit of fiddle jamming, immediately followed by "So Like Candy" / "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." It brought it all back together and whatever sand deposited in the eyes during the acoustic set was wiped clean with "All Grown Up."

The last two songs lost me for a bit as I was sensing the show coming to an end. "Turpentine" and "Uncomplicated" not being some of his most inspiring, a little dark and rough around the edges for a live performance. Nonetheless he pulled it off probably better than expected.

Then came the two encores. "Lipstick Vogue" was done with Alex Turner to little fan fair. I don't know if it was because no one knew who he was (lead of the Arctic Monkeys) or because his performance wasn't too inspiring. For me it was the latter, he simply couldn't match Costello's stage presence and booming voice. But then "Waiting for the End of the World" rolled through like a freight train right into a seamless transition into Morrison's "Gloria." Finished off by "(I Don't Want to go to) Chelsea" and the sublimely beautiful "I Want You." Though it was Costello's song I can't help but think it was a slight nod to Dylan whose birthday was mere hours away. He left the stage and had everyone thinking a bit that it was over.

Until that A-E-Gm-C#m chord progression pulsed through the amps and Alison was alive, the remnants of a voice problem that caused the cancellation of a show in Jersey a week ago was no where to be seen and he hit all the highs and traversed the lows frighteningly adept. It flowed easily into some beautiful hints of classics "Tracks of My Tears," "Tears of a Clown" and of course "Suspicious Minds." (The Angels Wanna Wear my) Red Shoes came next, the backup phrasing "Oh why's that...?" callbacks from the band sprite and succinctly playing straight man to Costello's bellowing. This was followed by a mind blowing-insane "Purple Rain," then "Pump it Up" into "Subterranean Homesick Blues" (as I said Dylan's birthday was mere hours away) closed with "(What's so Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding."

I was enthralled, walked out onto Broadway in the rain, my cold coming on strong at this point, the deal was over and the price needed to be paid. It was worth it to say the least, it was the best concert I've seen in years. It brought back some hope and some beauty to the world that has been dull and grey lately. I am still reeling from it on the couch in sweats with tissues up my nose and watery eyes; with those eyes booking tickets for his return to the old Count Basie Theatre in late July another legendary venue that deserves such a legendary artist.

Tags: Beacon TheatreWarren HaynesThe Rolling StonesJames TaylorBruce SpringsteenDavid BowieJackson BrowneT Bone BurnettSam PhillipsDiana KrallWillie GarsonI Hope You're Happy NowHeart Of The CityMystery DanceRadio, RadioHoover FactoryWatching The DetectivesClowntime Is OverStrict TimeMan Out Of TimeOliver's ArmyA Slow Drag With JosephineNational RansomThe BibleCode SundaysSo Like CandyDon't Let Me Be MisunderstoodAll Grown UpTurpentineUncomplicatedLipstick VogueAlex TurnerWaiting For The End Of The WorldVan MorrisonGloria(I Don't Want To Go To) ChelseaI Want YouAlisonTracks Of My TearsTears Of A ClownSuspicious Minds(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red ShoesPurple RainPump It UpSubterranean Homesick BluesBob Dylan(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?Count Basie Theatre


Songs You Should Know But Probably Don't, May 24, 2011

Johann Blain reviews Elvis Costello & The Imposters with The BibleCode Sundays and Alex Turner, Monday, May 23, 2011, Beacon Theatre, New York.


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