Elvis Costello & the Imposters: Now I Try to be Amused

ElvisElvis 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.

9 thoughts on “Elvis Costello & the Imposters: Now I Try to be Amused”

  1. Yep, sounds like the Chicago show July 6th. I gotta tell ya, the show he put on for Taste of Chicago was worth getting drenched to the bone three times for. I can now die a happy man having seen the true King of America play an amazing rendition of my all-time fave “Radio Radio” and then rip into a roaring version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding?” It was worth getting hassled by my boss when I had to get a new pager. “Jeff, this pager valiantly gave its life for my entertainment, because Elvis put on one hell of a show.” He just rolled his eyes.

  2. I agree that EC is relevant, and all the praise is definitely justified. My critical point is minor: While his recent marriage to Diana Krall may be having a great effect on Elvis, I doubt it has anything to do with his playing “Everybody’s Cryin Mercy,” by Mose Allison. It’s not really a traditional jazz “classic”, i.e. it’s not an old tin pan alley song that has been covered by the likes of Frank Sinatra; rather it’s a 1960’s quirky original by a unique artist with as much in common with the likes of Randy Newman & Elvis himself than with Billy Strayhorn or Cole Porter.

    It’s no wonder that Elvis recorded the song years ago on his “Kojak Varieties” LP (perhaps better support, then, for Stephen’s other point that EC is touring for the reissues of the back catalogue). Not that Stephen is wrong in reminding us that EC has covered standards throughout his career. It’s just that the song “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy” is a despondent and bitter Anti-war song, and knowing EC, this is much more likely the reason he is playing it live in the USA nowadays. If we want to see the influence of Diana on EC’s music, we’ll probably have to wait for his new LP “North”, due out in September. It appears to be a jazz-heavy follow up to the rock-heavy “When I was Cruel.”

  3. D2: When writing the piece, I quite nearly just indicated that it was a Mose Allison composition and left it at that, but then I decided that it would be beneficial for some of the GloNo readers to use the phrase “jazz standard” rather than reference Allison because many of them, I suspect, are not familiar with him (and might have said to themselves. . .”Err, Allison? “Alison”? I didn’t know her first name was Mose.”). And while we may quibble about the definiton of “jazz standard,” I think we’re essentially on the same proverbial page.

    Thanks for your observations.

  4. Setlist via http://www.elvis-costello.com/news/archives/2003_07.html (with minor correction by Mac)

    Detroit July 15

    Radio Radio

    Waiting for the End of the World

    Beyond Belief

    Accidents Will Happen

    You Belong to Me

    I Hope You’re Happy Now

    Doll Revolution

    Everyday I Write the Book

    Everybody’s Crying Mercy


    Clown Strike

    Alison/Tracks of My Tears/Tears of a Clown/No More Tearstained Makeup Dust 2…Dust Pump It Up

    1st Encore:

    Either Side of the Same Town

    I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down


    2nd Encore:

    Watching the Detectives

    Honey Hush

    3rd Encore:

    All the Rage

    Deep Dark Truthful Mirror/You Really Got a Hold on Me

    Man Out of Time

    Sweet Dreams

    4th Encore:


    Honey Are You Straight or Are You Blind


    No Action


    (Submitted by Victor Gagnon)

  5. well.

    I saw Elvis a week or so ago in Providence, in a small club. (his NH gig fell through, so he somehow ended up in a small gig in Rhode Island).

    There was a similar vibe of just rocking in every direction. He also played Mr. Alison’s tune. I definitely never thought I’d see Mr. Costell from ten fee away, but there I was. Sweat beading joyfully on all the smiling faces.

  6. Here at GloNo HQ we’ve been kicking around the observation that whereas last year EC played at the big outdoor venue in the Detroit area (DTE Energy Music Theater, a.k.a., Pine Knob), this year it was at the much-smaller Freedom Hill. Last year, he didn’t fill Pine Knob (which was good for us from the point of view of scoring better seats), and he did spend more time–or so I recall–playing tunes from “When I Was Cruel,” rather than the old stuff. All of which probably led to being at Freedom Hill this year. And given n’s remark about ending up in a smaller club (presumably, not exactly planned), one wonders whether this year’s model isn’t spiraling. (Of course, those of us who saw him recently know what the others are missing.)

  7. I was with my daughter at the freedom hill show in sterling heights. Following the song Alison, my daughter handed Elvis a rose, I am trying to find a picture of my daughter and Elvis for her birthday. If you have any photos of the event or leads please let me know. Thanks

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