Photo: Lynne Margolis
Elvis Costello & The Imposters At The Paramount Theatre
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By Lynne Margolis
Diehard Elvis Costello fans are generally ready for anything, but the singer knows that certain situations call for minimizing esoteric material in favor of the tried-and-true. The anniversary gala fundraiser for Austin's Paramount and Stateside Theatres on May 11 was such an occasion. Instead of a full-fledged show that might have stretched beyond two hours, GRAMMY winner Costello and the Imposters gave a performance that landed somewhere around 75 minutes and leaned heavily on his better known songs.
Costello and his band — keyboardist Steve Nieve, drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Davey Faragher (also of Cracker fame) — may have concentrated on the most familiar elements of his remarkable 35-year catalog, but they delivered these songs as if they still love playing each one. Instead of rote recitation, they went for reinvigoration, throwing in enough new twists and little surprises to favorites such as "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" and "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" to keep even veteran fans on their toes — or dancing in the aisles, high heels, beaded dresses and all.
At first, it seemed as if the set was progressing at punk-like speed. But in his early Attractions era, most songs fell well under the three-minute mark. "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down," his opener, clocks in 2:06 as recorded on his 1980 album, Get Happy!! "High Fidelity," another track from that album, wasn't much longer, and the exuberant "Radio, Radio," from 1978's This Year's Model, barely broke three minutes.
But the ever-dapper Costello, in a striped suit, silver fedora and always the coolest footwear (on this night, as he pressed a wah-wah pedal during "Everyday I Write The Book," his shiny black shoes showed flashes of turquoise-green) eventually stretched out with deeper tracks. Exercising his peerless vibrato on songs from The Delivery Man (2004), Imperial Bedroom (1982), King Of America (1986), National Ransom (2010), and Momofuku (2008), he also demonstrated his considerable acoustic and electric guitar skills on songs such as "Watching The Detectives." But on that song and others, he also stepped back to allow Royal College of Music-trained Nieve — the mad scientist of keyboard wizardry — to cast his own spells with trills, fills and dramatic arpeggios.
Before paying homage to George Jones with "Good Year For The Roses," he told the story of how Jones jumped the gun on revealing the sex of the twins Costello and wife Diana Krall were then expecting, announcing it to an audience before they'd even told family members.
"That's gonna be a helluva thing to tell the lads when they know who George Jones is," he added.
Costello also prefaced "Jimmie Standing In The Rain," with the tale of an old Vaudevillian who went into "cowboy music," proving his love for paying homage to his influences and his ability to balance reverence with a touch of earthy humor.
For the encore, he turned one of his most beloved hits, "Alison," into a gorgeous homage to the Great American Songbook, adding snippets of "Over The Rainbow" and "West Side Story"'s "Somewhere," rising into an effortless falsetto finish. But he knew better than to leave without a round of "Pump It Up" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding."
Open-bar cocktails, helped contribute to the festive atmosphere, as did liberal pre-show live-auction bidding on items such as passage for two on GRAMMY winner Delbert McClinton's next Sandy Beaches Cruise and a signed guitar and photo with Costello. No word on the price the latter package fetched, but whoever won it undoubtedly was even happier with the prize after this show.
Set List: (partial)
"I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down"
"Heart Of The City"
"Everyday I Write The Book"
"Either Side Of The Same Town"
"Song With Rose"
"(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes"
"Monkey To Man"
"Good Year For The Roses"
"A Slow Drag With Josephine"
"Jimmie Standing In The Rain"
"(I Don't Want to Go To) Chelsea"
"Watching The Detectives"
"Pump It Up"
"(What's So Funny Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding"
To catch Elvis Costello in a city near you, click here for tour dates.
(Austin-based journalist Lynne Margolis currently contributes to American Songwriter, NPR-affiliate KUTX-FM's "Texas Music Matters," regional and local magazines including Lone Star Music and Austin Monthly, and newspapers nationwide. She has previously contributed to the Christian Science Monitor (for which she was the "go-to" writer for Beatles stories), Rollingstone.com and Paste magazine. A contributing editor to the encyclopedia, The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen From A To E To Z, she also writes bios for new and established artists.)