Elvis Costello & the Imposters – SummerStage – June 15, 2017
Elvis Costello is a writer’s rocker. David Lee Roth put it best when he said, “Music journalists like Elvis Costello because music journalists look like Elvis Costello.” I would take offense to this statement, but after sneaking a glance at myself in the mirror, I think Diamond Dave might be onto something. Costello knows where his strengths are because as a self-proclaimed music nerd (check out his old Sundance show, Spectacle, if you need any more convincing) he can tell when an album or piece of art should be looked upon in reverence. That is precisely why for his current tour with his longtime backing band, the Imposters, he’s playing his 1982 classic, Imperial Bedroom, in full. Upon its release, the LP wasn’t as big of a commercial success as his previous albums, but it was a breakthrough moment for Costello as an artist. Following up the recording of his country-covers album, Almost Blue, in Nashville, Tenn., with famed producer Billy Sherrill, Costello hooked up with Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick to explore the furthest reaches of the pop landscape to create Bedroom, and it’s since remained his most expansive and rewarding record. The tour rolled into town Thursday night for a packed show at Central Park’s SummerStage.
With no opening act, Elvis Costello & the Imposters began promptly at 7:30 p.m. as fans were still making their way into the venue from a line that zigzagged through the park. The band immediately dove headfirst into a ripping version of “The Loved Ones” and from then on we were given a tour of Bedroom with few detours in between. The projection lit up behind them took each of Costello’s album covers and obscured them with art in the style of Barney Bubbles’ artwork for Imperial Bedroom. At one point Costello explained the original abstract work by saying that he told Bubbles to listen to the album and just paint what he felt the overall theme of the record was. After listening, the artist then produced the piece he titled “Snake Charmer and Reclining Octopus” to which Costello thought, “Fuck me, what did we make?” The show was filled with hilarious banter from Costello, and his band was as sharp as their leader’s deadly wit. With original Attractions members Steve Nieve on keys and the incredible Pete Thomas on drums, the band was rounded out with Davey Faragher on bass and Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee on backup vocals.
It was a great to see them include obscure Imperial Bedroom songs like “Human Hands,” which would normally be left off of the set list. Costello clearly loved this trip down memory lane as he dug deep into an extended guitar solo during the album’s climactic “Beyond Belief” that launched the caustic track into pandemonium. They did find the time to dig out classics from other albums like “Accidents Will Happen,” “Clubland” and a raucous version of “Watching the Detectives,” which had Costello creating piercing feedback through his guitar with a megaphone siren that soared out of control and into the New York City sky. The main set ended with the Bedroom Highlight “Pidgen English” before the band left and returned for an encore. More like a second set, Costello treated the audience to 12 more songs that not only finished his obligation to play Imperial Bedroom in its entirety but also treated his fans to some of the hits they had been craving. For the first song, he yelled, “Now for the original heartbreak song!” before launching into the My Aim Is True classic “Alison” with his two backing singers providing sweet harmonies to its chorus. After running through some more tunes, including the Imperial Bedroom standout “Man Out of Time,” Costello treated the audience to a brand-new number called “American Mirror.” He described it as a plea for a return to decency that could be called “British Mirror” or “Russian Mirror.” They ended the night out with a one-two punch of “Pump It Up” and his version of Nick Lowe’s timeless anthem, “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace Love and Understanding” that seemed as meaningful and prevalent as ever. After Costello and his band bid goodnight, the crowd flooded into the city streets, mesmerized by one of today’s greatest living showmen and songwriters. —Patrick King | @MrPatKing
Photos courtesy of Dana (distortion) Yavin | distortionpix.com