Russell Baillie

Russell Baillie is the Herald’s entertainment editor

Concert Review: Elvis Costello and the Imposters, Civic

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Elvis Costello.
Elvis Costello.

Elvis Costello and the Imposters may have played at the Civic just over a year ago but any possibility of deja vu soon evaporated a few songs in.

This was a show to remind that veteran Brit Costello has made more than 30 albums since 1977's My Aim Is True.

And it was also to remind that last year he delivered one of his more invigorating collections of recent times with Wise Up Ghost, a collaboration with hip-hop band The Roots, four songs of which featured among the two dozen or so played on Sunday night.

But for the main set, this was largely an alternative take on Costello's vast back catalogue.

Sure, there were some familiar touches like the soul-shaped 1983 hit Everyday I Write the Book and the Almost Blue country hit Good Year for the Roses a few songs later.

But for the first hour-plus this was a sometimes confounding wander off the beaten track, a kind of fanclub-friendly B-side rummage.

Though if it wasn't big on easy familiarity, it didn't lack for initial energy - right from the opening blast of Monkey to Man, You Belong to Me and Beaten to the Punch.

But after that, it took a while to regain that opening momentum as it wandered across the years.

Still, it all came delivered with the bracing punchy grooviness of Costello's band - two-thirds of his original Attractions - with keyboardist Steve Nieve a flurry of ivory ticking activity in almost every song.

And it had stories too. A chatty engaging Costello offered anecdotes about his musician grandfather and father ahead of Jimmie Standing in the Rain.

That segued into an off-microphone Brother Can you Spare a Dime, a song originally sung by, amongst others, Al Jolson whose talkie movies Costello said his grandma blamed for the demise of hers husband's silent cinema gig: "And that woman could hold a grudge."

Also getting the personal touch was Quiet About It, a song from by singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester who died earlier this month and who Costello said he had covered while attempting to be a coffee-house folkie as a youngster.

That main set certainly had its insightful intriguing moments. But it was the nine-song encore which had the fun.

Especially when it neatly married Wise Up Ghost tracks like Walk Us Uptown and Sugar Won't Work to old reliables like Watching the Detectives and (I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea, with Costello letting loose on guitar.

A storming (What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding offered a resounding ending just as it did last year.

This time it was the capper on a show that might not have quite equalled the spark of 2013's long-awaited return but those gathered will now be wishing for a trilogy in the Costello-Civic annual fixtures.

- NZ Herald

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