May 08, 2005


Pick Hit


I'm amazed that Elvis Costello has never released a live album other than 1978's "official bootleg" Live at the El Mocambo. As great as that album is nostalgically, it's a far cry, performance-wise, from the kind of shows the now-consummate showman EC can put together.

I've been fortunate enough to see Elvis in almost every incarnation: From 1978's "Good Evening" - an hour of blistering performances, no talking, lots of sneering - "Thank You, Goodnight" assault with The Attractions to the green and red "Armed Funk" show, the "TKO Horns" tour, "The Spinning Songbook" Broadway extravaganza, with his band from his "bearded years," the classical music "recital" with The Brodsky Quartet, the Burt Bacharach-thang, solo with a boombox, with his keyboardist Steve Nieve and with his latest band, The Imposters.

As good as Elvis was in 1978, he's just one of those performers who has truly gotten better with age. I thought he peeked with The Attractions in 1986 (captured beautifully on This Is Tomorrow, a BBC bootleg of their last concert ever...before their next last concert ever a decade later) but at age 51 Elvis appears to be peeking yet again. If you weren't lucky enough to catch Elvis Costello & The Imposters on their current tour, they'll be back in the summer with "the vocal stylings" of Emmylou Harris.

In the meantime, go out and buy the Live in Memphis DVD which serves double-duty as a video document and an almost perfect live album. Admittedly, I have a little trouble with EC in close-up these days (I know it's wrong of me; people get older and, um, larger) but ultimately it's the music that matters: The 1-2-3 punch of the set's opening numbers ("Waiting for the End of the World," "Radio Radio" and "Mystery Dance;" the sprinkling of songs from their great new album The Delivery Man; the guest appearance of Miss Emmylou (maybe the set's weakest moments; somehow Elvis' voice has never quite worked that well with women; however, this is the best he's sounded with Harris); and the 1-2-3 punch of the set's closers ("Alison," "Peace Love & Understanding" and "Pump It Up."). Never does it feel like, "Hey, watch me rock...I'm over 50" because Elvis has nothing to prove; he's simply a talented songwriter and musician who obviously loves, loves, loves music (check out his cover of Howlin' Wolf's "Hidden Charms" and his ironic-yet-not-ironic inclusion of "Suspicious Minds" at the end of "Alison").

And, as a bonus, the DVD has a very cool doc: "Off The Beaten Path" - A Road Trip With Elvis & Pete (Thomas, Elvis' drummer) in which the two musicians tour some old Southern Blues stamping grounds in a 1955 Cadillac ("a year younger" than the two of them). Final word: If you don't like this DVD then I guess I don't like you. I'm joking...sort of.

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