Elvis Costello & the Imposters
Freedom Hill Amphitheater, Sterling Heights, MI, July 15, 2003
“He may be older, but he surely isn’t tired.”—overheard observation
Or maybe it has something to do with Diana Krall. There was Costello, looking more fit and trim than he has for years. An outdoor venue in July with the sun still high enough in the sky so that he could see the crowd without spots interfering. With the Imposters backing him (Nieve, Thomas [Pete], and Faragher). And he ripped into “Radio, Radio” and continued non-stop for over 20 minutes, playing essentially the “greatest hits” from My Aim Is True and This Year’s Model, supplemented with some other old tunes (e.g., “Every Day I Write the Book”) to some recent vintage (“Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s A Doll Revolution)”). He finished up that frenzied blast—one after the other after the other—with a twist, by doing the classic jazz standard “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy.” Krall, again, perhaps, but still indicative of the Costello who’d throw in “My Funny Valentine” with “Watching the Detectives.” He came and he came hard.
Whereas the last time we saw Costello he was out in support of When I Was Cruel, it seems evident from the hard-charging opening that he is now out in support of his entire collection, or at least that part of it which is likely to be purchased by the kind of people who attend outdoor concerts and like to dance and sing along with the lyrics (i.e., Almost Blue would not be a concert favorite). Rhino has all of those great reissues out there, and it would certainly be to his benefit if (1) those of us who got things originally were to refresh our collection and (2) those who may be late to Clubland will get what they’ve missed. So he played, and played. The small talk and the chit-chat were irrelevant. This was a man who was playing like he was almost out of time.
A funny thing about this. While there are more than a small number of performers and bands who are out there trying to eke out some extra dough a la a pension of sorts by playing their handful of hits, with Costello—and let’s not forget that his first U.S. album came out in 1977, so do the math—it didn’t seem so much like he was a retread trying to gain traction. There was a sonic relevance. Perhaps that’s the difference between those musicians who continue and those who play the State Fair venues: relevance is earned only by a continued progression borne of work in new directions, only to stay true to the original point. An Almost Blue and a Painted From Memory and a Juliet Letters are required in order to get from ’77 to ’03 and beyond without becoming a self-parodying novelty act.
Even though the angels may be wearing his red shoes, he’s still getting older.
Read Stephen Macaulay’s review of Elvis’ previous tour, Well, I Used to be Disgusted, from June 2002.