Elvis Costello & The Imposters - Civic Theatre April 27, 2014

13th Floor: Marty Duda: April 28th, 2014: Photo By Michael Flynn

With over 30 albums to his credit in a career that stretches back to 1977, Elvis Costello has a substantial catalogue of songs to draw from. Last night, at Auckland’s Civic Theatre, he put that catalogue to good use, delivering gems from a dozen albums that all seemed to form a cohesive two-hour show.

Costello and his Imposters had just performed at the same venue in January of 2013, so it would be interesting to see if he could avoid repeating the same show.

Not a problem.

In the interim, he has released Wise Up Ghost, collaboration with The Roots, from which he played four songs. The rest came from that impressive catalogue…although, by no means what it a “greatest hits” set.

He and the band got down to business right away…stringing three rockers together, letting the audience know that although most of them had been playing together for over 35 years, they still had plenty of energy and enthusiasm.

“It’s good to be back”, the dapper looking Costello announced as the band vamped before launching into Everyday I Write The Book. The crowd, most of whom looked like they had ben fans since 1977, clapped and sang along. Keyboard player Steve Nieve added a few new flourishes to keep the song fresh.

Davey Faragher’s loping bass line propelled the next number…Watch Your Step…an overlooked gem from 1981’s Trust.

Then next came one of my favourites, Brilliant Mistake, from 86’s King Of America.

It was like listening to all of Costello’s albums on random shuffle…each song was an unexpected delight.

Elvis slowed things down with his version of Good Year For The Roses and then Jimmie Standing In The Rain, a song that echoes the music of the 1930s. He finished the song with a brief, but emotional few lines of Brother, Can You Spare A Dime, sung away from the microphone. The crowd loved it.

Costello has grown immeasurably from the angry, spewing performer I first witnessed back in 1978. Nowadays, he jokes amiable with the crowd and tells wonderful stories, such as his days as a 17-year-old playing with his father’s dance band in Blackpool.

He also paid tribute to fellow singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester, who recently died, with a moving version of Winchester’s Quiet About It.

Following that, he played a rather solemn I Hope…finishing the song with “So long, bye bye, I forget you bye and bye, I hope”.

Then he and the band left the stage.

Although they had been playing for over an hour, it seemed too early.

Apparently Costello thought so too. They returned to play for an additional 45 minutes beginning with a re-vamped Watching The Detectives, featuring a thrilling, discordant guitar solo by Costello and a bull horn.

After Walk Us Uptown, from Wise Up Ghost, it was back to the 70s with a batch of old favourites.

Earlier in the evening, someone in the crowd called out for Costello to turn up his guitar. He must have heard him, because, aside from the ballad Alison, Elvis used the last part of the show to let loose on the guitar, playing blistering solos during (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea.

By the time he got to Clubland and Sugar Won’t Work, he was in Hendrix territory, working his wah wah like a 1960’s guitar God. Come to think of it, he even threw in a few nice licks during Alison.

The evening ending with a thundering version of (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding. At this point it felt like they didn’t want to stop playing…with drummer Pete Thomas driving the beat hard til the very end.

“That’s how we roll”, quipped Costello as he and the band took their bows.

A fantastic display of songwriting and musicianship, and more impressive, a fresh, enthusiastic, and at times, quite emotional performance. Please come around every year Elvis!