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Taking the stage promptly at 8:32 (the time on the tickets said 8:30), ELVIS COSTELLO took the stage backed by his venerable backing band THE IMPOSTERS (basically THE ATTRACTIONS with DAVEY FARRAGHER replacing BRUCE THOMAS on bass) and tore into a rousing version of “Welcome to the Working Week”, the first song from his first album My Aim is True. This was a fitting beginning for the last night of a tour done to promote the reissue of his entire 1977-1986 catalog (this time minus the great bonus tracks, stupidly enough) and the new compilation Rock and Roll Music. In fact, I bought the ticket partially because I was hopeful that we would get to hear many little-played chestnuts from his early years and for most of this concert, I wasn’t disappointed.
Launching right into “Shabby Doll” (from 1982’s incredible Imperial Bedroom) and following it with “The Beat” and “Party Girl”, right away I knew this was going to be something special. Sure enough, during the first hour and fifteen minutes, Costello played nothing past 1986 save for the ballad “Either Side of the Same Town”. From 2004’s The Delivery Man, this song bears a strong resemblance to the ‘60s soul classic “Dark End of the Street” (which Costello has also covered on occasion). However, he knew no one wanted to hear his newer material and he gave us long suffering hardcore fans what we wanted. This meant deep cuts like “Lovers Walk” and “Strict Time” (from 1981’s underrated Trust) and several songs from 1980’s ironically titled treasure trove of goodness Get Happy!!. Among these were “Secondary Modern” and “The Imposter”, both of which I’d never heard played live before. Simply put, I was stunned in the best way imaginable that he was even playing these songs. Furthermore, his vocals were in fine form and The Imposters were firing on all cylinders. By the time of the first encore, they were really cooking, playing a rousing version of “Uncomplicated” (from 1986’s Blood and Chocolate) followed by “High Fidelity” and the aforementioned “The Imposter”. What a setlist! What a show! This was pure heaven for a Costello fanatic such as myself.
To be honest, I wish that the show would’ve been over right then and there when he was still ahead. However, the show dragged on through another hour’s worth of encores (to make it four in total). While I like the music of ALLEN TOUISSANT, I think it was a mistake to bring him out and play thirty minutes worth of songs with him. Don’t get me wrong here. Touissant is a legend and I think very highly of him as a songwriter, producer, piano player and vocalist. However, I wasn’t all that fond of last year’s The River in Reverse, the album that Costello and Touissant recorded together. Comprised mainly of reworked versions of obscure Touissant originals with Costello on vocals, it had its moments but was relatively weak overall. Thus I have no idea why he would choose to continue playing material from it! I understand that he wanted to help out Touissant financially after the Hurricane Katrina tragedy, his anger manifested in “The River in Reverse”, which was also performed. However, on this evening these songs just disturbed the flow of the concert and it never recovered. Aside from “A Certain Girl” (with great lead vocals by Touissant and great call and response interplay between Touissant and Costello), which stayed in my head for hours after I heard it played, Costello’s versions of this material (with Touissant relegated to the role of guest pianist and occasional backing singer) just doesn’t stand up alongside many of the originals that he played earlier.
Afterwards, he stopped satisfying the die-hards and focused on the casual fans, playing “Pump It Up” (yawn) and ”(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”, the song he’s been closing his sets with for years now. With a rallying cry to bring the troops home at the end of it to drive home the point, Costello showed that he doesn’t shy away from expressing his views on current events and this is to be commended. Furthermore, even in the very rare moments that this forever forward-thinking artist looks backwards (as on this evening and on this tour), he has to throw a curveball. On one hand, I respect his decision to play newer material towards the end of the show, but again, from a purely aesthetic point of view, I just didn’t enjoy it as much! Nevertheless, this was still overall one of the best Costello shows I’ve seen in the last ten years. It’s rare that he he even plays in general admission venues and much like the incredible show I saw him do back in 2002 at Convention Hall in Asbury Park, NJ, this was definitely a night to remember despite its shortcomings.