The beloved entertainer showcases his fine new album north of the border
Elvis Costello & The Imposters
Wednesday, October 6, 2004
Which Elvis are you? Stark-staring, sparrow-legged, bilious Buddy Holly? Speed-guzzling soulboy? Whiskey-soaked, beers-and-tears country lover? Thesaurus-thrashing purveyor of perfect conscience-pricking pop? Soul-shredded red-and-black revenge machine? Mutant balladeer with weird beard ideas? Classical cognoscenti? Friend to the glossiest stars?
All these Elvi enter Glasgow’s holiest building with The Imposters for their only UK gig?their only European gig?and rip into “How To Be Dumb”, the astonishing 1991 stream of invective apparently battered out after Costello read former bassist Bruce Thomas’ less-than-flattering memoir The Big Wheel. The Imposters, of course, are The Attractions?whirligig keyboard wizard Steve Nieve, tonight sporting a fetching kilt of uncertain tartan, and Powerful Pete Thomas, pounding his drumkit with arms that defy time?minus B Thomas, whose place has been taken by Davey Faragher (dressed like Chas, Dave and the supporting cast of Only Fools And Horses, and pulling it off). They make an imperial, whirling, battering noise; yet Elvis still seems stung by Thomas’ gang betrayal. And that’s key. No matter how many Vanity Fair articles or string quartets he writes, somewhere inside that tight purple suit still lurks the brilliantly twisted suburban computer-programmer with a churning brain and chip on his shoulder, capable of hanging on to hate till his fingers bleed.
Costello’s place in the punk wars which liberated him remains open for debate, but he seems intent on structuring tonight as four-to-the-floor Ramones tribute. The first five songs are a furious rush, opening chords crashing in before closing notes fade. Flashing across the decades, “Doll Revolution”, “No Action”, “The Next Time Round” and an enormous “Radio Radio” go tearing past, making clear how consistent his core, thick, wild mercury sound has been.
Things slow in the most surprising way with a rare outing for Leon Payne’s schizo-Nashville “Psycho”. As intensely, sweetly screwed-up as it ever has been, it leads into the corrupted gumbo and bleeding Americana of the new Delivery Man album. That Costello has chosen Barrowlands to showcase the record is not so surprising: he picked Scotland as safe haven to premiere Almost Blue when ‘going country’ was enough to get you lynched, and has racked up fistfuls of epic stands in Glasgow. Still, the most frustrating element of tonight is how half the audience seem to have turned out for greatest hits, and take the jet-black psychodrama of the title track, a sublime “Country Darkness” and extended, clanking, curdling, rumbling reworkings of “Button My Lip” (a summary of the Costello catalogue) and “Needle Time” as chat-breaks, flattening out the night.
An entirely unexpected “Blame It On Cain” demonstrates how the big wheel’s still turning in Costello’s head. The crowd is brought back to heel with “High Fidelity”, “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down” and a singalong “Good Year For the Roses”. I stopped counting at 25 songs. Biggest surprise: Costello chanting “We Want You As A New Recruit” Village People-style during “Uncomplicated”. Least surprising realisation: we need him singing “Oliver’s Army’, “Shipbuilding” and Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding” more than ever?and continuing to hunker down with all his internal Elvi to write a few hundred more, growing older outraged-ly.