Viva Elvis Costello! What If Elvis Didn’t Play Vegas But Moved The Show To Port Chester?
I didn’t much want to check out Elvis Costello And The Imposters at the Capitol Theatre last Friday. I’d had plans to go to Kid Rock and it would have made for a better story, it might have been a better concert as well, but one thing is for sure, it wouldn’t have been front row, and another thing is for sure, I couldn’t have gone with rock nyc’s co-editor Helen Bach, and I wanted to go with Helen Bach. Because, as big a fan as I am of the big (and growing larger by the day) EC, I don’t have a tattoo of his eyeglasses (the ones he wore on the cover of Trust) on my right arm the way young Bach does. So between proximity to Elvis and proximity to Helen being proximous to Elvis (her review here), I went for it.
And I didn’t mind at all, but mostly because of Helen. Costello wise, it is, without a doubt. the most ordinary I’ve ever seen him and I’ve seen him countless time since the first time, back in 1977. The reason is because these suddenly on sale performances, three at The Capitol Theatre and one at Brooklyn Steel, are replacements for his residency at Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas which were suddenly cancelled as Steve Wynn was thrown off the board of the hotel chain he started in the wake of #metoo accusations. I assume Wynn is a pig, most men are, and have zero sympathy and less for him. I also have no sympathy for Elvis. A coupla years ago I went to Vegas to see the Stones and they cancelled the first gig and last year I went to Vegas to see Cher and she cancelled as well. It is a major problem when there is a Vegas cancel, people come from all over the world to see performers, and it is a huge problem if they don’t show. Costello had no right to allow his pointless moral queasiness to disrupt his fan’s lifes. He would have been much better performing (it certainly wouldn’t effect Wynn’s bottom line by any stretch of the lexicon) and using his quite literal platform to be clear as to his opinion on sexual harassment. Incidentally, the young, adulterous, Costello, was no paragon of virtual virtue either, but then if that was the bar for discussing #metoo no man and few women would make that leap.
So, Vegas… Elton John’s “The Million Dollar Piano” At The Coliseum At Caesars Palace last year (here). I’d seen one disappointing Elton John concert after another, especially the awful, laughingly called “Greatest Hits” set from 2011. But I always give him one more time because, well because he is Elton. Anyway, the two hours on the dot Elton in Vegas set was about the hits nearly to distraction and it was awesome. Vegas is Vegas, they want you in and they want you out so the fans can go back to gambling, and if you fuck about with your setlist your residency will die. My guess is that the Costello not in Vegas concert we got, just about 150 minutes, was a rejigger from what was not to be. An all business, full on head rush for the first set mostly featuring ol’ little hands of concrete on lead guitar and sounding like a no new york rescue case performing hard shards of white lighting runs to stuff you’d expect (like “Watching The Detectives”) and stuff you might not (like “(I Don’t Wanna Go to) Chelsea”), it is an odd abstraction and Costello standing center stage looked like a musos delight. He has been performing the same opens at all Not Vegas New York mini tour: “Wonder Woman,” “Girls Talk,” and “Big Tears,” the best of which was his masterpiece about terrorism in Ireland during the troubles “Big Tears. Then he turned on the highway and threw in “High Fidelity” which benefited from two excellent back up singers. At Vegas I figure his setlist would have been set in stone, if only because of fancy stage shenanigans we were saved from in all of this. These four evenings have many of the same songs, and not just, of course idiot, “Alison” and “Pump It Up,” and (time to put it to sleep, Elvis) “What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, And Understanding,” the latter two a closing one two punch he has been pulling off for decades. But also “Blue Chair,” a personal fave.
There were also surprises, the close of “Green Shirt” with Steve Nieve on a moog synthesizer replicating that french flute coda, a shock for all of us “Poor Napoleon” (which makes three he’d perform from Blood And Chocolate, we only got one off King Of America) and the single best moment of the evening, and really the only reason to absolutely have to have caught the show, was his “Motel Matches” that morphed into Webb Pierce’s “There Stands The Glass”. Let’s be clear, Costello sings more operatically, I mean dramatically, then anybody else on the planet, which makes him a natural for 60s country and while Webb’s performance is nasal, and Van’s version was deep but bluff, Costello destroys the audience on this terrific take. When I was a kid, I mean from when I first saw “The Last Picture Show,” in 1971, I was all about Hank Williams but country was toothe side of my interest, Costello introduced me to both George Jones and Patsy Cline, and I have always loved his country sound.
The first encore was a little interminable, but we did get Hank Williams “You Win AGain”. Still I really hope he pulls off his Broadway musical “A Face In The Crowd,” and I have no problems with the two songs from it that he did perform, the title track and “Blood & Hot Sauce,” either, though I’d have much preferred “The Uneasy Hour” and “American Mirror”. Nice to hear “Talking In The Dark” as well. If I could have Elvis perform any set I wanted, it would be a lot different than the ones we get. How about “All The Rage”? “Just About Glad”? “You Tripped At Every Step,” “Still Too Soon To Know,” “This Is Hell”? … actually we got “This Is Hell” but my point is not just that Brutal Youth was a great album but that you could choose an album at random and chose a half dozen songs he never plays live.
So where was Helen during all this? She had my leg in a vice like grip and never took her eyes off EC, even though Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas were both way on their game. Helen is terrific to go to gigs with, she is a concentrated vision of loveliness unmoved by anything but what’s in front of her. She doesn’t speak, she doesn’t even clap much, and she has to be pushed to stand up. You should see us together, people wouldn’t know if we were enjoying ourselves or otherwise. Perfect for me of course, I am concentrating! But was that Helen tearing up during “our song” “Green Shirt”? -hey, it could’ve been worse, it could’ve been “Two Little Hitlers,” so don’t be cheeky. I think she enjoyed it more than I. But it is a sign and symbol of my admiration for Elvis that it was the worst performance I’ve ever seen him give and I still thoroughly enjoyed it. The thing is, Costello has always been good with an audience, he always spoke to us, included us in, I remember a huge singalong to the “I know” portion of “Accidents Will Happen” back in 1995 that felt like Church. He was distant Saturday night, professional to a fault but somehow cold. It was an odd performance. Maybe Vegas was on his mind as well, Helen claimed the opening “Wonder Woman” and “Girls Talk” was a commentary on Wynn. Viva Elvis, I say.