Monday, November 7, 2016
*Costello*Imposters*Imperial Bedroom*Beacon Theatre*
"Yeah, it was good. I don't know. There was something missing. But then I think, maybe it's me."
My friend said this, as we walked south on Broadway, after seeing Elvis Costello & The Imposters play a solid 2:45 at NYC's Beacon Theatre.
Pete Thomas is still one of the best rock drummers out there.
Steve Nieve is a wonder of talent on the keys.
Davey Faragher, while no Bruce Thomas, does a fine job keeping bottom and he handled all the vocal arrangements for this tour, as well.
I think the problem with the show, what's missing, was Elvis Costello.
It's not you, my friend.
It was a dream set list for many, with all of 1982's masterpiece "Imperial Bedroom" played, wisely, out of order, though "Boy With A Problem" only got a brief reference as part of "Shot With His Own Gun." The rest of the set was mostly comprised of songs released between 1977-1983, some with brilliant new arrangements, like the almost bossa nova-styled take on "Pills & Soap" and the slow R&B burn of "Tears Before Bedtime," both with wonderful backing vocals from Faragher and two women, one named Kitten and one named YahZarah.
My main issue with the performance was the feeling like I was watching an Elvis Costello impersonator. Costello, never a great guitar player and once referring to himself as "the little hands of concrete," seemed like he stopped trying altogether. If his Rickenbacker wasn't awash in distortion and tremolo, his Fender sounded out of tune. Or maybe, he was just playing badly. Most of the set was a muddy mess. It'd be easy to blame the theatre and the sound man, but once EC picked up the acoustic, sadly not often enough, the sound was clean and you finally heard the other members of the band. But also, Elvis seemed more intent on being a guitar hero, with extended Neil Young noise solos in the middle and at the ends of three minute pop tunes.
There were highlights, of course. Most of "Imperial Bedroom" sounded fresh. "Green Shirt" was powerful, and took over the entire theatre. And the groove on "Every Day I Write The Book," with good old fashioned band intros, was a blast. But EC's voice is just not cutting it on the ballads, tunes like the Bacharach co-write "This House Is Empty Now" and "Almost Blue," were cringemaking, at times, like you just wanted him to pull through. And both Kitten and YahZarah were too busy with their histrionics to add anything more than annoying squeals to most of the songs. "Alison," one that I never tire of, was quite frankly, horrible, with Elvis barely playing his guitar and the two singers literally screaming the name "AAAAAAAALIIIISSOOOONN" into the microphone.
Elvis moved from guitar to piano, and told some stories, thankfully none as painful as the "God's Comic" intro of 1989. He danced around like a broken marionette and looked extremely uncomfortable. But still, there is no question about the brilliance of his songwriting, but...
There were two new songs, written for a musical version of "A Face In The Crowd." I hope the rest of the songs are better than "Blood & Hot Sauce" and "American Mirror," otherwise the show will open and close in Alamagordo. These songs were the lowlights of the evening.
I enjoyed a good portion of the show. But where Bruce Springsteen & the ESB still have the ability to make a stadium feel intimate with their passion, I felt completely detached from Elvis Costello in a 2000 seater.
Maybe it's me.