Elvis Costello & The Imposters(Pt. 2)

House of Blues

March 12, 2005


My friend Ben is a huge music nerd. He makes me look like a fool when it comes to musical knowledge and expression. His latest thing is giving abstract two-word reviews of albums and the atmosphere that they convey. Example: My Bloody Valentine's Loveless=warm bees. Wilco's A Ghost is Born=brown paper. So in tribute to Ben, I will review Elvis Costello's House of Blues show Saturday night.

Grape jelly.

That's it. That's the entire set rolled into one easy to swallow(and delicious) pellet. Ahh, but what does it all mean? Elvis' set was full of sparkly, poppy punk classics that employed lush organs and bright guitars. It was sweet, delicious pop music.

The squealing organ of "Radio Radio" closed an opening medley of five or so "This Year’s Model"-era songs. Purple tones were matched by his sparkly pink guitar and thumping basslines. Due to an unfortunate sound mix, though, the songs were not very clear and tended to sound the same, particularly those which I did not know. The muddy sound did not help Costello’s trademark moan, either. His voice was almost buried too low during the louder material. Still, Costello and his band, the Imposters, pressed on and played with more attitude than their middle age would imply. Even the acoustic songs had a bit of grit. Costello looked particularly pleased throughout the performance, and he had a bright smile plastered across his face.

The set was heavy on material from last year's "The Delivery Man." These songs really made the evening; think Manchester meets 1970’s Austin. Part British punk attitude, part country balladeering, Costello's recent material provided nice interludes between day-glo classics. The title track from 2002's "When I Was Cruel" introduced a surprisingly Tom Waits-ian element to the set.

Costello played for two hours and fifteen minutes with no break. I'm not the biggest Elvis fan; I have a couple of albums and know the hits, but that is about it. So, when he broke deeper into his catalog and went fiteen and twenty minutes without a hit, I got bored. The low mix made his vocals unclear, which left me with little to follow when I didn't know the songs. The crowd reaction, though, was great. Everyone else seemed to know every word to every song.

As the set drew to a close, Elvis abandoned the microphone for the most stark and beautiful moment of the night. He stepped to the very edge of the stage as he strummed his fat bodied Gibson acoustic guitar. He sung lightly into the air. After the requisite "I luv you Elvis!" followed by a thousand "shut the hell up's," Costello’s voice and guitar were the only things audible in the room. The austerity of the moment was breathtaking. The band broke in and finished out the slow country jam. The final push and power of the Imposters somehow gave the song a touch more emotion than it already packed, and the effect was almost too much to handle.

And then, as if the moment had never happened, Costello picked his pink Telecaster back up and roared through "What’s So Funny 'Bout(Peace Love and Understanding)." In two minutes, the show was over.

It was Go-Go's pop, spaghetti western, and The Clash rolled into two hours, played by a man who I am now convinced is a genius.

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