Fear not, people who think old E.C. may be mellowing out in his old age and taking too seriously blurbs that he is going to be the Cole Porter of the '80s or some such thing. Mr Costello's Imperial Bedroom may seem like a leap into post-rock sophistication (or some such thing) and he may seem more likely to shake the hands that feed him — interviews! actual quotes from the man! appearances on late night TV! — but E.C. hasn't gone soft (or some such etc.).
There's probably little point in once again trumpeting the man's musical genius and artistry. Elvis Costello and his wonderfully powerful but self-effacing band, the Attractions, managed to make for an interesting night in the Cape Cod Coliseum of all places.
Who built that place and why? Put the cheapest brand of Radio Shack stereo speakers in the middle of an empty swimming pool and you get an idea of what music sounds like in this concrete box. A person is (regrettably) used to bad sound in large halls, but this was ridiculous.
It killed Talk Talk. This band's debut EP on Capitol-EMI is nowhere near as lame and boring as you would think from their performance, which was one long monotonous blur.
It (the place) pretty much killed the new material from Imperial Bedroom for Costello too. His new album is primarily a listening album, and not the most instantly accessible listening album either. Although Costello still has a formidable melodic sense, many of the songs and arrangements are convoluted and very dense. It requires concentration and attention to begin unraveling the songs; they aren't very danceable numbers either. So, it's little surprise that this material was least effective at the Coliseum. "Almost Blue" was an exception, a stunning, slow torch song done as an encore, as was "Shabby Doll," which had a funked-up middle. But other songs from Bedroom, like "Beyond Belief" and "You Little Fool" were not as successful on stage, despite being quite exciting on disc.
The more upbeat, older material was really upbeat. Costello roared through some of the songs, taking them at much faster, more frenetic tempos: "Pump It Up" was nearly a jitterbug, for example. But Costello masterfully worked the pacing of the sets, building up and coming down, alternating ballads and rockers and never hitting a low spot for too long. He went from "Watch Your Step" into a surprise cover, "Back Stabbers" by the O'Jays, into "King Horse," and inserted Sonny Boy Williamson's "Help Me" into the middle of "Watching The Detectives."
Costello's musical strengths are enough, so there was a merciful lack of theatrics. During "Detectives" they had on-stage turquoise lights beaming out from, into, and around the band, giving the stage a look similar to the scene in Poltergeist where the mother goes into the closet. That and the stars on the backdrop for "Clubland" were the only "touches."
No, not true — the real touch was extended to the audience, those people who were touched by Costello's artistry. Some people responded best to the anger, some to the pain, some to the spirit. But virtually everyone — all but the most besotted revelers — must have been touched one way or another. Costello has broadened and added depth to his work, ventured into a new, more complex phase of his career without — so far — losing his way. And he's going to be bringing a lot of people with him.