Elvis Costello Topped Off His 10 Day NYC Stint with the Imposters in Tow for A Full Up Rave at the Capitol Theater
What else could Elvis Costello do after 10 sold out nights and 200 different songs at New York’s Gramercy Theater?
His top off in the New York area came Friday night at Port Chester’s sparkling Capitol Theater. This time, Elvis was joined by the Imposters — Steve Nieve, Pete Thomas, Davey Farragher and hired gun Charlie Sexton. A wind driven ice storm raged outside, but inside the Capitol the band was hot.
As with the 10 Gramercy shows, this one had plenty of surprises and rarities. The first of these was “Blame it on Cain,” from his 1977 debut album “My Aim is True.” I have a soft spot in my heart for the songs from that album. “Blame it on Cain” and “Sneaky People” were the first Costello tracks played by the legendary Charles Laquidara on WBCN in Boston. We had to listen to the radio sort of day and night hoping to hear them. Also from that album on Friday: “Alison” and “Watching the Detectives” just as pungent and purposeful as they were four decades ago.
Then there was a look at Costello’s second album with the title track “This Year’s Model,” “Pump it Up,” “Radio Radio,” and “I Don’t Want Go to Chelsea.” (We used to think the latter was about going above 14th Street, but then it turned out to be something else entirely. We didn’t want to go to Chelsea either.)
Highlights of the night were aplenty, with Steve Nieve’s spectacular piano on :”Accidents Will Happen,” and Elvis and band resurrecting “My Mood Swings,” mostly unheard for the last 20 years. He told me after the show the band had just re-learned it afternoon, but they were certainly in the mood, and swung. Gorgeous.
Costello is perhaps the most eclectic musician in pop history. Pop, rock, R&B, country, swing, rockabilly, Broadway, jazz– nothing escapes his purview. There is also “Toledo” from the Burt Bacharach collaborations (a new box sex of their history was just released). We also got two songs from Elvis’s planned Broadway show, “A Face in the Crowd,” which are ready for the Great White Way.
We were also treated to two newish songs, which Elvis cheekily describes as two sides of a single he bought in a fictional record store– the very interesting “I Don’t Want Your Lyndon Johnson” and the more accessible “Tipsy Woman.” There were numbers from recent highly praised albums, too, such as “Hetty O’Hara Confidential” and “Magnificent Hurt.” Another, “What If I Can’t I Give You Anything But Love?” is a classic in waiting, and needs some cover versions desperately.
Elvis and the Imposters aren’t old men on the level of the Stones but they are older than the Jonas Brothers or comparable groups and delivering a finely tuned show of intricate musicianship. On “When I Was Cruel,” my favorite of the night, there are loops and echoes mixed with a grinding rock track that felt like it cut through the stage floor with a buzz saw. On the big penultimate finale of “Chelsea,” Costello dug down on his lead guitar infusing his 45 year old creation with bursts of electricity. Quite amazing.
What is also eye opening is that Costello’s songwriting, acerbic from day one, has lately sharpened. There is no flab as he ages, just more closely observed slices of life, In “The Man You Love to Hate,” no longer the title of his memoir, he finds and removes a beating heart faster than a surgeon. As he leads us into the story, as with most of his songs, a new movie full of characters we want to know more about begins:
I went to a theatre on Silhouette Street
It had a taste of decay and a scent of defeat
All of the patrons in the pews were people that I’d killed or used
The actors on the stage were equally skilled
Costello may have performed over 200 songs in the last two weeks, but he’s not done with us, and we’re far from done with him.