Elvis Costello tames the elements during New York concert run
Elvis Costello and The Imposters at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, March 8.
Paraphrasing W.C. Fields in A Fatal Glass of Beer, last Wednesday night (March 7) in Brooklyn and much of the nor’easter-wracked Eastern seaboard wasn’t a fit night out for man or beast. But Elvis Costello & The Imposters rose to the occasion for the many hearty souls who still braved the elements for the first of four New York area shows (Port Chester’s Capitol Theatre hosted the next three, last Thursday, Friday and Sunday nights).
Taking the stage to the perfect choice of Rosemary Clooney’s “Snow,” Elvis & Co.. were on fire from the get-go, rattling off an initial volley of front-loaded favorites (“Wonder Woman,” “Girls Talk,” “Big Tears,” “Miracle Man,” Radio Radio” and “This is Hell”) with such blazing abandon that drummer Pete Thomas seemed on the verge of spontaneously combusting at any moment.
Maybe the audience needed a breather when the pace finally did slow down a bit for ballads like “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror” and “Motel Matches” (the latter always a Costello vocal tour de force), but the band didn’t: They kicked it right back up again with rockers like “(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea” and “Waiting for the End of the World.”
But it wasn’t just the band that was scorching. For his last few tours Costello has brought along two terrific backup vocalists in Briana Lee and Kitten Kuroi, and in these shows he’s really integrated them into the set masterfully, particularly the second half, following the band’s departure after “I Want You.” The gals stayed on and stepped over with Costello to a single microphone set up at the front of the stage, crowding him from both sides as they all sang “Alison” to his acoustic guitar accompaniment, the inspired trio turning into a three-way love fest by song’s end.
From there they followed Costello to keyboardist Steve “The Professor” Nieve’s vacant grand piano, maestro himself tickling the ivories as he sang “A Face in the Crowd,” Lee and Kuroi backing him on the title song of his hoped-for Broadway musical based on Elia Kazan’s 1957 film classic starring Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal.
Nieve resumed his rightful position when he returned for “the part of the show,” per Costello, “where we should put on our smoking jackets and sing the songs of the new wave” that Costello helped launch in the late 1970s”—the entries here being “Accidents Will Happen” and “Talking In the Dark.”
Thomas and bassist/vocalist Davey Faragher came back to close out the show with the others on songs including Costello’s great Burt Bacharach collaboration “God Give Me Strength” (another vocal stunner), his “You Shouldn’t Look at Me That Way” soundtrack single from Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, and a second set of encores capped, as ever, by “Pump It Up” and “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”
But there was something special and moving this time. Clearly having the time of their lives, Lee and Kuroi acted out each repetition of the “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” title line by first gesturing “What’s so funny?” and then flashing peace signs in answering “peace, love and understanding.”
Rather than coming off corny, it was truly affecting, so much so that a good many in the crowd responded in kind. And to top it all off, Costello announced that despite the declining consumer interest in the album format, he and The Imposters have in fact completed a new one for release later this year.