Elvis Costello at Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, Dec. 4 2018
Fittingly, Elvis Costello opened his Queen Elizabeth show last night with “This Year’s Girl.” The gritty ‘70s New York City-set series The Deuce has been using the track for the opening credits of its second season, though with a twist—the HBO show’s version is a mashup of Costello’s original, of his 1978 album This Year’s Model with added second-verse vocals by Wild Belle’s Natalie Bergman.
Now, along with his usual band The Imposters (two Attractions plus Davey Faragher on bass) Costello is touring with Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee. The singers provided sterling backups and pulled out awesome dance moves throughout, but especially during venerable rock warhorses like “Pump It Up”, “Radio Radio,” “High Fidelity” and “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea.” According to variety.com, Costello added Kuroi and Lee to the band lineup for last year’s Imperial Bedroom and Other Chambers tour.
Bring back ‘Tokyo Storm Warning’ for God’s sake
The Imposters were in fine fettle, with long-time sideman Steve Nieve flitting from keyboard to keyboard, Faragher playing unobtrusive (in this mix at least) but supple bass, and Pete Thomas creating a controlled and decisive racket. Costello played tons of guitar, enough for me to periodically wonder if there’s any chance he might bring Marc Ribot (the American avant-garde guitarist Costello’s played with on occasion) back to his live lineup. Then again, guitar has never been especially important to his sound.
Costello and his crew delivered a lengthy set, at least two-and-half-hours, although it seemed longer thanks to the addition of “I Want You”, which seemed to take up at least half that time. (Hey, man—bring back “Tokyo Storm Warning” if you’re going to do a long song from Blood and Chocolate!)
The setlist collected a solid wish-list of casual fan fulfillment (“Clubland”, “Everyday I Write the Book”, “Alison”, “Watching the Detectives”) and a few semi-deep-cut gems (“Honey Are You Straight Or Are You Blind”, “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror”). Tracks from the songwriter’s new album were also plentiful. The album, Look Now is his first since 2013’s Wise Up Ghost with The Roots. To these ears, only a couple of the new tracks approached his career highs, although the fact that a song like “Under Lime” can even be mentioned in the same sentence as “The Beat” (another track off This Year’s Model, performed in a swinging rearrangement last night) is an accomplishment not to be underappreciated. His introductions to the new material however tended towards cloying and coy.
A little bit punk rock, a little bit Andy Griffith
Costello acknowledged being on home territory (he lives at least part-time in West Vancouver). He said hello to his wife Diana Krall, their sons and other relatives in the audience. Nothing was said about his surgery earlier this year on what was described at the time as a “small but very aggressive cancerous malignancy.”
This was my fourth or fifth time (maybe sixth—did I see the Bacharach tour?) seeing Costello. It was probably the best. Although, I do recall a blistering set at Bumbershoot in Seattle. In that 2014 outdoor set, he and the Imposters barely stopped for breath as they powered through a 60-minute set. It was an hour that was streamlined to leave an impression even on the uninitiated.
That was punk rock. Last night’s show was a little punk. But it was also new wave, croony ballads, and Broadway show tunes. One of the encore numbers was “A Face in the Crowd”. The song is from a proposed musical based on the 1957 Andy Griffith movie of the same name.
Peace Love and Understanding
The whole thing ended with a rousing rendition of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding.” Though written by Nick Lowe, Costello’s producer in his early days and a master pop songwriter himself, the track has become a signature one for Costello. Just over a month or so ago, Lowe was performing in town. Then, he played his own version; he also ended his show with a delicate acoustic version of Costello’s “Alison.”