Concert Review: Elvis Costello & the Imposters – Chicago Theatre – 5.16.11
I must preface this by saying that I have been an unabashed Costellophile for a good portion of my life, predating my being a Springsteen junkie, a Farrarian or even a Westerbergite, so Mr. MacManus could have walked onto the stage and coughed up blood for 15 minutes and I’d still say it didn’t sound too bad. But friends and neighbors, he did not do anything of the sort. Instead, the limey bastard happily entertained we Midwesterners for two and half hours.
My friend Sarah and I drove up from Springfield, IL to catch the show. And, as per our usual ritual, we got drunk on cheap wine. Well, that is to say cheap in our hometown currency. Maybe its just the small town way of thinking in me, but a bottle of goddamn Yellow Tail bought at the 7-11 should cost no more than five dollars and these Windy City jerks are chargin’ me fifteen!? Good lord thats a lot of money. Hows a guy supposed to put on his bum coat on the cheap in that damn town? And the Bella Bacino’s Restaurant sucks. For another time, I suppose.
Anyway, cold and light wallet be damned, we took the chilly night’s walk to the Chicago Theatre well oiled and ready to see a damn fine show. And that we did. The Theatre is quite a spectacle, if ever a chance to go arises, I’d take it again. To use a phrase from Sarah, the place is “fancy as shit”. Our seats, literaly the highest and farthest possible seats, were still just fine with me. Save for the jerk in front of us. Again, for another time.
Elvis and his cohorts took the stage at a respectable 8:15. Tearing immediately into a five song cocktail of table-setting Punk infused spirits. A little Blood & Chocolate (“Hope You’re Happy Now” and “Uncomplicated”) and a little Stiff era buzz (“Mystery Dance” and “Radio, Radio”) makes for a perfect way to put a crowd in the right mood. There’s no denying that Elvis has still got it, 30-plus years after being at the forefront of the Stiff Records Punk/Pub Rock wave. The Punk attitude can last a long time, but the ability to perform it usually wears off. Not this man and not his band. Pete Thomas’ understated drums are the unsung hero of the Attractions/Imposters. Steve Nieve’s keys were rightly cranked in the mix and Davey Faragher’s harmonies give the Imposters a far broader sound than their predecesors.
The gimmick of this tour is the “Spectacular Spinning Songbook” that hasn’t been used in 25 years, blah blah, you know the story. It really could have just been a lame gimmick to sell tickets and fill time, but Elvis really used it to the max, adding alot of comedy to the show. The amount of usage the wheel recieved was just right: too much and it would drag the show along, too little and it would feel like a regular show. Of course they were going to play “Alison” and “Watching the Detectives” and the like, regardless if they came up on the wheel or not, but other than that the show truly felt spontaneous.
Between songs, Elvis’ banter was quick and really funny. Retelling a story of his first flight to Chicago, where the plane went through turbulence and he had a fear of being known as “the Buddy Holly look alike who also died in a plane crash”. My personal favorite quote of the night leading up to a classic song: “I wrote this while I was trying to rid the world of alchohol by drinking all of it”. When the audience came up to participate, Elvis was charming and charismatic, sometimes cheating the wheel’s spin to land on a song he wanted to play: “It has a mind of its own!”.
The wheel songs had a great variety, with special Jackpot songs sets, such as “Girl” and “Time”. We recieved both of these, with songs partaining to the words. “Girl” gave us “This Years Girl” and “Girls Talk”, while “Time” gave us my favorite set of the night: “Strict Time”, a real surprising treat, “Man Out of Time”, “Next Time Round” and a nice little cover of the Rolling Stones’ “You’re out of time”. I was a bit perplexed that “Sulky Girl” or “I Still Have that Other Girl” didn’t make the “Girl” List. Guess beggers cant be choosers though.
There’s always a few certain songs you want to hear when you go to a show, knowing that you might get let down. I mean, shoot, Elvis has attics full of songs, so I knew that hoping for “Satellite” or “Suit of Lights” may have been a fool’s game. But man, this guy could fill set after set without a clunker. You really can’t complain when you hear “Beyond Belief” and then a jazzed out version of the getting-tired “Pump it Up”, followed by a solo “Slow Drag With Josephine”, complete with a flubbed start that Elvis took like a true champ, or moving seemlessly into “Tracks of my Tears” during the fade of “Alison”. The moment of the night for me personally had to be when they played “Rocking Horse Road”, an obscure little number that was THE song that got me into the man and his music. Just a perfectly written song. Sarah’s favorite moment coming when the band morphed “Peace Love and Understanding” into “Purple Rain” for a bridge.
Though it would have been fun to hear him dip a little more into the country or piano ballads in his repretoire, there really is nothing better than a good night of real rock and roll. Elvis is still hip and still every bit a showman as he was decades ago. The show let out, the jerk in front of us left unimpressed, proving my point about his personality. We left more than impressed, stumbling back to the hotel where I gushed over the show we just watched. I did the same all the way home and to everyone at work the next day. I’ll be buying tickets to the St. Louis show for sure.
(my other reviews/writing!: christmaslightsallyear.com )