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Memphis Commercial Appeal
Review: Elvis Costello christens new album with Memphis show
By Bob Mehr Thursday, April 24, 2008
Elvis Costello always has something cooking.
Just the other day, I finished reading an epic-length interview with the spectacled singer-songwriter in the new issue of British magazine The Word, in which Costello -- frustrated by the traditional, and rapidly fading, system of releasing records -- seemingly swore off making another album for the foreseeable future. "Something like 60 discs with my name on it have come out since the turn of the millennium," observed Costello. "There's a lot to choose from. I'd say let the blood soak into the ground for a while."
Still, Costello did allow that, "if I record again, it will be a very different way of doing it."
True to his word, I find myself holding a copy of a brand new Costello album, titled Momofuku (a nod to the Japanese inventor of cup noodles). Recorded quickly over a few days, mostly in February, with his band The Impostors, and a group of young Los Angeles rock scenesters, the record was rush-released into stores this week minus any of the usual prepublicity and as a vinyl-only title to boot (a CD version will follow next month).
As a result of this sudden (by music industry standards, at least) turn of events, Costello's Tuesday night show at the New Daisy -- ostensibly a warm-up gig before a long stretch opening arena shows for The Police -- became something of an album release celebration. (Costello joked that he's making a tradition of playing Memphis to christen each new record, as he did with 2004's The Delivery Man).
Clad in black and armed with a copper-colored Les Paul -- rather than his more familiar Fender Jazzmaster -- Costello opened playing dissonant guitar lines on catalog classics like "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" and "Uncomplicated." Unfortunately, the sound for this first burst of tunes was something less than stellar, with Pete Thomas' booming drums and Costello's sharp vocals dulled and lost amid a muddied mix.
Despite a few highlights -- including a co-write with Rosanne Cash called "Song With Rose" -- Costello misfired with an early set list filled with a half-dozen new numbers or older, yet slower, fare that seemed to sap the interest of the Daisy's capacity crowd.
Oddly -- given the wealth of Costello's own catalog -- the highlight of the show came mid-set with a harmony-laden cover of the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale," the version perhaps a tribute to local heroes Big Star (who covered it on their 3rd album) as much as to Lou Reed.
More new songs of varying quality followed, with Costello's estimable backing troupe, The Impostors -- drummer Thomas, keyboardist Steve Nieve and bassist Davey Faragher -- working hard to put each one across, and generally succeeding.
If the first part of the show was marred by sound problems, and the second weighted down by a selection of sluggish songs, Costello more than made up for it during the stretch run. He played a sparkling new number penned with country legend Loretta Lynn about the real reason behind the fall of man, titled "Pardon Me, Madam, My Name Is Eve." He then delivered a sterling rendition of "Man Out of Time" before slashing away at a toughened take on "The Impostor."
After a rousing run-through of "Radio Radio," Costello encored with Momofuku's somewhat soppy celebration of fatherhood, "My Three Sons." He then opened up the stage to a trio of young musicians who'd guested on the album, and have tagged along for the current jaunt: "Farmer" Dave Scher of Beachwood Sparks fame on lap slide, and singer-songwriter Johnathan Rice and session player Jonathan Wilson on guitars and vocals.
Together, the big band lineup worked its way through two of Momofuku's standouts, "Turpentine" and "Go Away," and a nightcapping "(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love & Understanding" with Costello leading a series of long but satisfying jams.
The latter song brought the curtain down on an oddly paced but interesting set, marking the start of what appears to be something of a new era for Costello, and perhaps, the whole of the music business.
-- Bob Mehr: 529-2517