Elvis Costello & the Imposters
with Laura Cantrell
The Tabernacle, Atlanta, GA • November 7, 2002
Just who was this smiling, jovial man before us? It certainly couldn’t be the renowned sourpuss Elvis Costello, who in the past has limited his interaction with his subjects to a sneer, biting off song titles and generally rushing from one end of a scant set list to another, could it? Well, perhaps it was the induction of Costello and the Attractions (two thirds of which are the Imposters) to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or maybe just the weather, but whatever caused it, Costello entertained us for a 32-song marathon that erased any doubts over who is the preeminent songwriter of the last few decades. To those of us who might have fallen off the bandwagon, moments such as “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror” or an electrifying “Green Shirt” had you going “oh yeah” quite a bit, marveling at his talent. Grinning like a loon, with humorous asides about George Bush and J-Lo, Costello seems to completely enjoy performing these days. With former Attractions Pete Thomas on drums and Steve Nieve on keyboards, along with journeyman bassist Davey Faragher (Cracker, John Hiatt), the sound was tight, and flowed seamlessly from number to number, which was a trick, since it seemed evident that only the barest structure of a set list existed, but the band kept up with Elvis every step of the way.
Costello is one of the few from the class of ’77 that has maintained a high level of quality output. The Clash, The Pistols, etc have faded away, and even with quite a few uneven records along the way, Elvis Costello still manages to find that combination between bemusement and anger that fueled his best work. His new record, When I Was Cruel gives us both, from the sly “I told you so” of “Stupid Girlfriend” to the monstrous set-closing “I Want You” which featured a demonic-looking Elvis, under lit with a single spot on the darkened stage. Old favorites such as “Radio Radio” and “What’s So Funny (About Peace Love and Understanding?)” matched up well with the newer material, and songs such as “Brilliant Mistake” (from the generally ignored King Of America album) probably sent many listeners scurrying back to their LP collections at concert’s end.
Opener Laura Cantrell’s short set of country-ish pop went over well, but most any female attempting to make a name for herself performing this sort of stuff will struggle to rise above comparisons to Patsy Cline, Emmylou Harris, and Lucinda Williams, and few can. But the evening was clearly Elvis Costello’s, and he made great use of it. Short of him playing his first three records back to back, you couldn’t have asked for more. He proved that maturing doesn’t necessarily mean mellowing, and that perhaps his best work might lie in front of him.