Friday, June 21, 2024

Review: Elvis Costello Hits New Heights with Dazzling New Horn Section and Ingenious Song Reinventions, and Nick Lowe for Dessert


How many times have we seen Elvis Costello perform in the last couple of years? A lot, and every show is different. Music of many genres pours out of him, not just his original new wave or punk rock. Costello’s songs vary to country, R&B, reggae, classical, literally everything. The theme is always melodies and hooks. No matter what field he’s working in, you can’t forget his songs.

Last night Costello brought his crackerjack group, The Imposters, along with Charlie Sexton to the Hartford Healthcare Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut. This is a large new outdoor amphitheater open to Long Island and breezes and the rush of Metro North in the background. Even on the hottest, most humid night the place filled up pretty quickly to see Costello and co plus opening act the great Nick Lowe and his group, Los Straitjackets.

Costello’s tour has only recently begun and is aimed the New York’s Beacon Theater next week. Last night for the first time a dazzling horn section consisting of trumpet player/arranger Michael Leonhart, saxophonist Donny McCaslin and trombonist Ray Mason was added to the Imposters famed roster of Steve Nieve, Davey Farragher, and Pete Thomas.

Elvis, alternating between a black beret and an electric blue Fedora, was more expansive on stage than ever with all this talent surrounding him. Most of his set lists are unique to the night, and this was no exception. He began the show sitting, grinding out the obscure politically themed (and rap influenced) “Pills and Soap.” That would be just enough to send fans who were expecting “Alison” to the exits. But they stuck with it, and the result was a glorious 40 year old R&B gem called “Possession,” accompanied by the disarmingly sublime horns. (It’s on the underrated “Get Happy” album.)

Then you could see Costello’s plan forming as he reinvented well known material — a la Bob Dylan — into new exciting forms. “Watching the Detectives” was crunchy. A last minute addition of “Everyday I Write the Book” was a soulful call and response with a jolly edge.

Two unexpected highlights: Costello at the piano for a gorgeous ballad he made years ago, Allen Toussaint’s “Poisoned Rose” with horns blazing. Then there was an ingenious mash up of a song Costello recorded with the Roots called “Cinco Minutos Con Vos” with the formerly pounding signature rocker, “High Fidelity.” The groove from beginning to end was magnificent and left everyone a little buzzed.

And then, of course, came “Alison” with Sexton’s guitar scraping it off the ceiling. Nick Lowe returned from his opening to join Costello on their most famous collaboration, “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding.” (Lowe’s silky voice and enormous songwriting chops have stood the test of time.)

If you saw Costello and Lowe last summer, or Costello on his 10 show journey at the Gramercy Theater, it doesn’t seem possible but every show is unique and memorable. This is an artist at work. I can’t wait to see more.

photo c2023

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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