Vancouver Sun, June 26, 2006

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Costello jazzes up his act for festival


John Mackie

Veteran new-waver teams up with New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint tonight

Elvis is alive and well and living in Vancouver and Nanaimo, part of the time.

At Christmas he was spotted walking around downtown wearing a toque. Last year he was at the Vogue Theatre checking out British comic Eddie Izzard. He's even been seen buying furniture on Granville Island with his wife, and paying by cheque, in the English fashion.

And tonight at 8 p.m., Elvis Costello will be appearing at the Orpheum Theatre with his latest musical partner, New Orleans great Allen Toussaint, as part of the TD Canada Trust Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

Costello and Toussaint are touring with an 11-piece band in support of their new album, The River In Reverse.

To the casual observer it might seem an odd couple: the erstwhile king of the new wave and the legendary composer and producer of countless New Orleans classics, from Ernie K. Doe's "Mother-in-Law" to Lee Dorsey's "Working In a Coal Mine" and Chris Kenner's "I Like It Like That."

But Costello has been a fan of Toussaint's music for years, and even collaborated with Toussaint a couple of times in the past — Toussaint produced Costello's version of Yoko Ono's "Walking On Thin Ice."

The new collaboration was sparked by the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. Costello loved New Orleans — it was one of the first cities he played in North America, and he felt a deep connection to the city and its music.

Watching the devastation unfold on TV while he was on holiday in B.C. with his wife Diana Krall, Costello felt he had to do something. Scheduled to play Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival on the Labour Day weekend, he paid tribute to the Crescent City by performing Toussaint's powerful ballad of social justice, "Freedom for the Stallion."

"I couldn't think of any song of my own that had any better meaning," Costello said.

Toussaint was unaware of this at the time: he was just trying to stay alive. Like many lifelong New Orleans residents, the 68-year-old had been through many hurricanes. So he decided to ride out the storm in the city rather than leaving, although he did move to the fourth floor of a hotel.

He survived the hurricane just fine, but when the levees broke and much of the city was flooded, Toussaint went to New York. There he met Costello at a gig, which led to them performing together at a series of New Orleans benefits.

Costello broached the idea of recording some of Toussaint's songs, which led to them writing new ones. They started recording in Los Angeles with producer Joe Henry, but midway through the session moved to New Orleans, which was still under martial law. It was an eerie time: normally the streets of New Orleans are teeming with life, but post-Katrina, the city was virtually deserted.

The vibe is captured in the opening lines to the Costello/Toussaint song Ascension Day: "Not a soul was stirring/Not a bird singing, at least not within my hearing/I was five minutes past caring/Standing in the road just staring."

But the song was written before they went to New Orleans. One day Toussaint — one of the greatest New Orleans-style piano players ever — played Costello "Tipitina," a classic by another New Orleans legend, Professor Longhair. This inspired Costello to write a lyric. Toussaint rewrote Tipitina into a minor-key ballad, and they were off to the races.

Ascension Day is one of five songs Costello and Toussaint wrote together for the album. Costello wrote the title track by himself, and there are seven covers of old Toussaint songs.

Rather than cover the hits, though, Costello chose to go for relatively obscure songs. Toussaint was surprised at some of the choices.

"It was sort of alarming, because I realized Elvis knows more songs that I've written than I do," Toussaint told the Chicago Tribune.

"I was totally surprised by how much Elvis knew about my music. He went for songs that weren't the most popular; instead he went for the B, C, D and F sides. But when Elvis sang them, he gave them an A-side performance."

On both the album and tour, Costello's band the Imposters is supplemented by Toussaint's Crescent City horn section, as well as guitarist Anthony "AB" Brown.

The show promises to be unique. Toussaint has provided new arrangements for several Costello songs, and Costello and Toussaint have been doing all sorts of Toussaint songs that aren't on the album, such as "What Do You Want The Girl To Do," "Brickyard Blues" and "Working In A Coalmine." Toussaint also plays tribute to his roots by doing a Professor Longhair medley that includes "Tipitina."

Be prepared for a long evening of entertainment: the shows are running to 2½ hours.

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Vancouver Sun, 26 June, 2006


John Mackie previews Elvis Costello & The Imposters with Allen Toussaint and The Crescent City Horns, Monday, June 26, 2006, Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver, Canada.


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