Report: Elvis Costello Live in Florida

At Hollywood’s Hard Rock Live on April 25, EC
and his Imposters had an interesting premise that sometimes didn’t live up to
its potential.

 

By Lee Zimmerman

 

Call it the redemption
of Elvis Costello. After all his various side excursions over the past couple
of decades – from country to classical, as well as tentative attempts at jazz and equally awkward passes at MOR, Elvis
has returned to the route he traversed early on. Even after putting out albums
at a prodigious rate – sometimes multiple releases in the span of mere months –
his best work remains the product of his heady post-punk beginnings, when his
material came across as vital, insurgent and with an aim that was the all the
truer for it. Now reunited with two of the original members of his iconic combo
the Attractions, which he’s re-dubbed the Imposters – specifically, keyboardist
Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas (bassist Bruce Thomas has long since been
replaced by Davey Faragher) – Costello seems determined to revisit the roots he
planted some 35 years ago.

 

Unfortunately, while the intent is there, the presentation doesn’t
quite live up to that promise. The showbiz shtick that Elvis adopts early on – top hat, cane, the nom de plume
Napoleon Dynamite and even the gyrating go-go dancer situated stage right –
seem so contrived that ultimately the effect dims whatever fire the band manage
to muster. The idea of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook – a giant wheel that
members of the audience are invited to spin to allow some supposed spontaneity
in the set’s song selection – is in fact a misnomer, as most of the numbers appear
predetermined. It’s a fun idea to invite fans onstage, but for the most part
they’re there merely to embellish the cabaret concept.
As for the wheel itself, it’s mostly a flashy prop. Without it, promoters might
have had to resort to billing the tour as a greatest hits package, which
clearly wouldn’t offer the same pizzazz. Besides, Elvis isn’t quite ready for
the oldies circuit.

 

Distractions aside, Costello and company prove they’re still
capable of carrying the material with little muss and fuss. Elvis himself seems
to have improved his dexterity as a guitarist over the last few years, although
Steve Nieve is still the major ace in the hole as far as giving the songs their
sheen. Thomas is equally adept,
although at times, his drumming seemed rote and merely workmanlike in its
execution. Faragher is an added plus, not only in terms of anchoring the bottom
end, but also supplying the back-up vocals that add extra dimension to the hiss
and spit that still informs his singing. Over all, the material was well chosen
– by the band that is, not necessarily by the spin of the wheel – and for the
most part it effectively skimmed the surface of Costello’s best early efforts.
Songs like “Pump It Up,” “Radio Radio,” “Heart of the City” and “Mystery Dance”
were delivered in rapid-fire succession early on, a reminder of the urgency and
intensity that characterized his youthful flash and frenzy. Likewise, “What’s
So Funny (About Peach Love and Understanding),” “I Don’t Want to Go to Chelsea” and “Watching
the Detectives” reinforced the fact that — wheel be damned – even the most
casual fan could hear the hits.

 

There were a few lulls in the action to be sure – “I Want
You” unmercifully dragged and slowed the show’s momentum to a crawl. The
one-two presentation of “Everyday I Write the Book” and “Allison” were
surprisingly lack-luster, shorn of the emotive impulses that sparked the
original versions. (Tagging a cover of “Tears of a Clown” with the latter
seemed an especially forced attempt
to add extra punch.) Surprisingly, the band’s take on Chuck Berry’s “No
Particular Place to Go” (prefaced by an amusing anecdote in which Costello
recalled a performance that found both Berry and Keith Richards looking on) and
a version of “Shotgun” by Junior Walker and the All Stars grafted on to
“Uncomplicated” proved especially effective during the encore. On the other
hand, capping the concert with recurring verses of “Purple Rain” seemed like a
tacky attempt to further titillate a
crowd which was polite but also unusually restrained. By contrast, Costello’s
cover of the Beatles’s “Please Please Me” was one of the more impressive
performances of the evening, a subtle reminder that when Paul McCartney tapped
Costello as a writing partner and indicated he was a surrogate John Lennon, he was
generally on the money.

 

Too bad, the edge was muted and not sharpened to the extent
it once was before.

 

 

[Photo Credit: Chad Batka]

 

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