mon 28/11/2022

Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Brighton Dome review - screams, not whispers | reviews, news & interviews

Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Brighton Dome review - screams, not whispers

Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Brighton Dome review - screams, not whispers

A full-on Elvis offers punk thunder and a saving touch of intimacy

'Costello’s talent as a sometimes political balladeer has proved his most profound songwriting strength'Mark Seliger

The usherette’s hands are clamped over her ears, and Elvis Costello is playing like it’s 1996, when the briefly reunited Attractions played a pummelling last stand, burying fatal internal rifts with punk thunder.

The Imposters – the Attractions with recalcitrant bassist Bruce Thomas replaced by Davey Faragher – have lately crowned their own long association with a brace of acclaimed albums increasingly resembling the clenched, agile music made in Costello’s initial pomp. Their 2020 UK tour even returned to the sticky-floored, standing-room halls of those ferocious days – the Liverpool Olympia in Elvis’s childhood neighbourhood of West Derby, playing a last, poignant show for his mum, and the Sunderland Empire. There were soulful backing singers then, as empathetic regret laced the resurgent roar.

This opening date of Costello’s UK return is a different kind of show, with the Brighton Dome all-seated, and the bar closed. It’s disconcerting as the band’s fuzzed-up urgency is met by immobile rows, a ritual bond sundered by rock’s respectability and ageing adherents. Backing singers are also out, and Dylan’s long-time foil, Texan guitarist Charlie Sexton, in.

Elvis Costello“Accidents Will Happen”, with Pete Thomas’s crunching drum tattoos, makes the usherette fear for her hearing. When the volume settles down, new songs show Costello remodelling the classic Attractions sound. Post-Brexit protest “No Flag”, from Hey Clockface (2020), fires siren-like flares over subterranean bass, with an awareness of hip-hop aesthetics. “Hetty O’Hara Confidential”, part of the same album’s wry raising of old showbiz ghosts, is sung under yellow klieg lights with a vintage, distorting mic, staccato swing underpinning Costello’s quick, riffing communion with Steve Nieve’s keyboards. “Mystery Dance”, from 1977, is followed by “The Difference”, from 2022’s The Boy Named If, themes of innocence and experience echoing through the years.

The country-soul Elvis and the Imposters explored on one of their best records, The Delivery Man (2004) – represented tonight by forlorn ballad “Either Side of the Same Town” – is the main stylistic counterpoint to their rock attack.

Costello has been in Brighton for a few days before this gig, and the Jubilee weekend gets wryly hostile barbs – misjudging some moods in a relieved, communal moment, but maintaining an abrasive nature undimmed by what he calls “that worthless gong”, the OBE accepted in a tangle of human contradictions that Elvis, now aged 67, has also grown to admit.

King of America’s “Brilliant Mistake” is taken as a ballroom rumba, Thomas switching to soft mallets, and Costello clinging to his crooner’s mic, where he interpolates Depression-era ballad “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, in which Al Dubin’s Costello-worthy lyric leaves “my soul behind me, in an old cathedral town”. “Watching the Detectives” is a Sixties beat group B-movie, arranged by Nieve’s keyboard art, and lit red like murder. But it’s “The Comedians”, a song from Costello’s Eighties nadir, which suddenly locates that time’s atmosphere, with its brutality and sorrow, betrayal and shame: showbiz with a miasma of Thatcher.

A raging “Pump It Up”, Nieve stabbing his keyboard with the crowd happily on its feet, and an epic “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” are the usual finale, shorn now of “Oliver’s Army”, the nuances of one of its words in an absolutist time having defeated even Elvis.

The intimacy that’s really been absent becomes clear just before that. “We’ve got to live for the moment,” Costello says. “And this is one of those moments.” And he sings “Alison”, mixed with The Boy Named If’s “Mr Crescent”, the lancing pains of sex and love enduring through his songbook. It’s lonesome, blue country-soul, which drops down to just Elvis shadowed by Sexton, as tears well. Costello’s talent as a sometimes political balladeer has proved his most profound songwriting strength. Amidst the screams, whispers were missed.

'Watching the Detectives' is a Sixties beat group B-movie, lit red like murder

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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