Almost six years after selling out the State Theatre with a solo show, Elvis Costello returned to Ithaca on Oct. 26 for another sold-out show — this time with his band, the Imposters.
Comprising two former Attractions — drummer Pete Thomas and keyboardist Steve Nieve — bassist Davey Faragher (formerly with Cracker and John Hiatt, and with Costello since 2001), and singers Aisha "Kitten" Kuroi and Briana Lee, the Imposters have the uncanny ability to follow Costello on his many musical journeys without missing a beat. And that means covering everything from country, jazz and folk to dub, new wave and rock.
Costello is dubbing his current jaunt the "Just Trust" tour, on which he asks his fans to "just trust" his judgment in putting together the setlist. (He joked it was not the "Just Trust" tour, at which he would only play his 1981 album of that name, and then leave.)
Greeting the "warlocks and wizards" in the crowd — the concert took place during Ithaca's Wizarding Weekend festival — Costello actually did lead off with two songs from Trust — "Strict Time" and "Clubland" — followed by "Green Shirt" from 1978's This Year's Model and "Human Hands" from 1982's Imperial Bedroom.
Other highlights of the 19-song set included "Accidents Will Happen," a spooky "Watching the Detectives," a plaintive "Almost Blue" and "Motel Matches," from 1980's Get Happy!! Two songs from the band's latest album, 2018's Look Now, were also standouts, especially "Why Won't Heaven Help Me?" and the sonically complex "Under Lime," which led right into the encore of "Pump It Up," "Alison" (which ended with bits of Smokey Robinson's "Tracks of My Tears" and "Tears of A Clown") and a fiery "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding."
Though he was a bit inscrutable with his sunglasses and white hat, Costello really connected with the crowd, especially via a bunch of funny stories — some to introduce songs, others just to amuse. He also was in fine voice throughout the night, even unleashing a falsetto during his Motown-inspired detour during "Alison."
From a personal standpoint, this was a bucket-list concert for me. I've seen Costello three times — in 1984, 2007 and 2013 — but they were all solo shows, so I've been dying to see him with a band for decades. I've long considered Thomas one of rock 'n' roll's best drummers, so it was a thrill to finally see him play in person — not only bashing away on "Peace, Love and Understanding" but watching Costello intently as he sat at the piano to play the brooding "A Face in the Crowd."
Nieve's work on a variety of keyboards also was stellar, especially on his distinctive organ riffs from the early Attractions albums. Faragher also was fun to watch during the show — he constantly bobs his head while uncorking his propulsive bass lines and spot-on harmonies. And Kuroi and Lee also provided powerful vocal (and visual) punch with their energetic contributions.
Still, it all comes back to Costello — who at 65 seems to be only getting better with age. It's inspiring that he's still enthusiastically playing some of his earliest songs while also continuing to create vital new ones. Indeed, those of us who did indeed "just trust" that Costello and company would put on a great show found that very trust rewarded on this memorable night.