Penn Valley College Spectrum, October 16, 2002
Costello's Cruel is Cool
By David Cordill
Elvis Costello was visibly cranky after finishing his soundcheck before his October 9th show at the Midland Theatre in Kansas City, MO.
Emerging from the 13th street stage door, Costello made his way toward a waiting vehicle, grudgingly signing a few autographs along the way, including an illegible scrawl upon this writer's baseball cap. For whatever reason, the 48 year old singer/songwriter wasn't in the cheeriest of moods, as was illustrated by his less than cordial demeanor towards the handful of people waiting for him near the theatre's south exit before the show.
A couple of hours later, however, the cruel Costello, along with his backup band - The Impostors - went on to put on a fine performance.
Nashville native Laura Cantrell opened the show to a warm reception with her critically acclaimed song stylings. Cantrell, who presently resides in New York City, has joined the Costello tour for 17 dates this fall.
Costello took the stage after a blaring fanfare of trumpets, accompanied by a yodeling rendition of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, blasted through the intimate venue. Immediately, he launched into "(I Hope You're) Happy Now," before going into "Tear Off your Own Head (Doll Revolution)" from his recent When I Was Cruel release.
Mixing his new material with flawless renditions of his vintage chestnuts from years past, Costello performed the next fourteen numbers with honest energy and, when the song demanded it, rich vocals. "You Little Fool," from 1983's Imperial Bedroom , was a pleasant surprise, as was with "Party Girl," whose anguished vocals at the end were even more chilling live than on the Armed Forces recorded version.
A breathless "(I Don't Want To Go to the) Chelsea" was sandwiched in between Cruel's "Spooky Girlfriend" and "45," followed by "The Judgement," an obscure number released on a compilation CD last July. "I Can't Stand Up (for Falling Down)" forced more than a few audience members to get out of their comfortable seats, inspiring many to sing along, clap to the music, and/or dance.
His next selection, "Miracle Man," from his 1977 debut album - My Aim is True- typified Costello's timeless and trendless material archive, with each song seemingly in place with all others within his repertoire. This explains his success, perhaps, because although he is not what one would call a hit maker, his music transcends pop chart mentality, and is judged by the amount of cerebral impact it has on the discriminate listener.
He pushed on with the soft touch of Goodbye Cruel World's "Love Field," which led to a rich and resonant rendition of "Man Out of Time" - probably his best song of the evening.
Costello finished off his pre-encore set with the rustic "Indoor Fireworks," a pepped up, Dave Edmundsesque version of "Girls Talk," and two versions of "When I Was Cruel." The second included him singing "My Funny Valentine" out of context with the former song's accompaniment.
Two well chosen collections from the Costello music library followed in the encores. The first featured his 1978 airwaves diatribe, "Radio Radio," "Clubland," from 1981's Trust, and "Mighta' Been," as heard on the motion picture, The Big Lebowski.
The rest of the this set was punctuated by a stellar version of "Alison," and Costello weaving into another Elvis's material - Presley's "Suspicious Minds" - as well as "Tart," complete with a sing-along chorus, and from Spike, "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror." Here, Costello once again steered into another's material, covering Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got a Hold on Me" during the latter part of this aforementioned selection.
The final curtain call began with two recent originals - "Another Episode of Blonde" and "15 Petals" - again from When I Was Cruel. The set ended with "Watching the Detectives," complemented by Costello's bizarre guitar stylings, and a rowdy classic - "Pump it Up" - before ending the concert with a superb and gut wrenching finale, "I Want You," with Costello pleading and reasoning the lyrics into the blackness of the theatre, while the spotlight focused solely upon his face.
Three years ago, Costello performed at the Midland with Steve Nieve, his longtime keyboard player. Acoustically, this venue suited that line up much better than the armed to the teeth band set up presently featured on this tour. The sound was often muddy, with the bass lines often buried in the resulting cacophony while signature keyboard were often lost in the muck.
On the mellower numbers, sound was not a problem, and Costello's vocals shone in their depth and range.
As a whole, Costello and his band were a tight group, his guitar work quirky in its customary dissonance, and The Imposters, amply keeping everything together.
One of his websites revealed that after the show, Costello happily signed album covers, sweat towels, and various keepsakes to those fortunate ones who waited by the stage exit after the show. Several persons remarked on how gracious he was in accommodating their requests.
Only a few hours before, I saw a different Costello, an angry man who with his guard up. Perhaps I caught him at a bad time; an instant when he wasn't the punster of Spike yore, but rather, a moment when he was cruel.
Copyright 2002 Metropolitan Community Colleges