29 – Elvis Costello and the Imposters, Kings Park, Perth, Western Australia, 5 December 2004

Elvis Costello is perhaps music’s greatest and boldest adventurer. From his home base in lyrically brilliant rock music, he makes forays into classical, jazz, country, folk, orchestral pop, soul, dance and all points between. He has worked with the most extraordinary list of collaborators, including Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach, the Brodsky Quartet, the London Symphony Orchestra, Tricky, Brian Eno, Johnny Cash, George Jones, the Mingus Big Band, Tony Bennett, Elvis Presley’s backing band, and so on and on.

In between, he periodically returns to home base, playing short pop/rock songs with his awesome band the Imposters (formerly the Attractions, plus or minus a bass player). That is where we found him on this tour – in a sense confounding expectations of being unpredictable by playing pretty well all of his early hits.

It was an intense show at a pace I haven’t seen since his 1978 tour. Songs tumbled out at machine-gun pace, with less-than-zero gaps between them for most of the show. The set list was also reminiscent of those early days, with almost half of the songs hailing from 1977 to 1981.

On his last trip to Perth in 1999, Elvis was garrulous and relaxed on stage. This time there were few words, and most of them related to his annoyance at being so far from the audience. The stage was set up over the back half of a small lake, with a pleasingly large crowd covering the gently rising slopes above. It was an idyllic scene, almost at odds with the intensity spilling from the stage.

“We came all this way to see your smashing faces”. He was clearly dissatisfied, but that’s not terribly unusual for Elvis.

At one point a couple from the audience almost stole the limelight, dancing in the lake, inevitably falling over, and bravely holding Security at bay with some well directed splashes. They provoked Elvis to say, “The least you could do is get naked!” and then to play “Pouring water on a drowning man”, during which the girl did appear to be drowning.

The Imposters were wonderful, as expected. Keyboard player Steve Nieve was understandably less prominent than in the duo shows of 1999, but he still shone. I do miss the incredible playing of Elvis’s former bass player Bruce Thomas, but there is no denying that “new” boy Davey Faragher is more than able, and his harmony singing is wonderful, adding a dimension that Elvis’s previous bands have lacked. Pete Thomas on drums was just perfect.

Naturally, the show featured a swag of songs from the new album, The Delivery Man. These went down very well, and did not sound second rate among a set list crowded with classics.

At times Elvis’s voice showed signs of being mid-tour but overall it was in fine shape, backing up after the louder songs to deliver wonderful renditions of the ballads.

The set included the usual showstopper, “Pump it Up”, but unusually not as the last song. It seemed like it was going to be last, when Elvis held up a finger to indicate “one more” before crashing into everyone’s favourite rant about inflation. But afterwards came three more songs, including the two quietest of the evening. The band version of Oscar-nominated “The Scarlet Tide” was particularly gorgeous. A highlight from a fabulous show.

Thus ended Elvis’s sixth concert in Perth (who’s counting?). Surely he can’t keep doing shows of this energy for much longer – he recently turned 50 – but I’m not making any predictions of when he’ll stop. Whatever he does next, we can only be certain that it will be different.

David Pannell, The University of Western Australia

Set list

Accidents will happen

Tear off your own head (it’s a doll revolution)

Radio radio

Beyond belief

45

Bedlam

Country darkness

Blame it on Cain

Pouring water on a drowning man

(I don’t want to go to) Chelsea

Good year for the roses

Tonight the bottle let me down

Deep dark truthful mirror/You’ve really got a hold on me

13 steps lead down

Complicated shadows

Encore

 

The delivery man

Monkey to man

I can’t stand up for falling down

High fidelity

Uncomplicated

Alison/Suspicious minds

Watching the detectives

There’s a story in your voice

Oliver’s army

(What’s so funny ‘bout) Peace, love and understanding?

Pump it up

The monkey

Scarlet tide

Sweet dreams

Further reading

Review by The Age of Elvis Costello and the Imposters’ Melbourne show, 23 Nov 2004.

Review by The ABC of Elvis Costello and the Imposters’ Melbourne show, 23 Nov 2004.

Review by The Sydney Morning Herald of Elvis Costello and the Imposters’ Sydney show, 26 Nov 2004.

Costello Specs by Dave Pannell

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