Nippertown: Greg Haymes: October 27th 2016
Elvis Costello’s two most recent Greater Nippertown appearances were pretty much polar opposites – a solo ramble at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in 2013 and a breathless blitzkrieg, full-band opening set for the Police reunion concert at SPAC in 2008.
Given the Palace Theatre stage as a headliner with a full band on Wednesday, Costello split the difference right down the middle – a bigger punch than his solo outing, not quite as electrifying as the short SPAC set.
Not that it wasn’t quite a brilliant performance. It was indeed, and there were quite a few thrilling moments throughout the evening, but it would have been quite a challenge for Costello & Co. to cut loose and really tear it up, as they were focused on – although certainly not exclusively restricted to – Imperial Bedroom, perhaps the most pivotal album in his long and eclectic musical career. There’s not a rock song on the album, and the lush, orchestral production by George Martin disciple Geoff Emerick is pretty much impossible to duplicate live, especially in the Imposters’ minimalist, straight-forward rock band format – bass, drums, keys and guitar.
So of course, Costello took the road less traveled. Imperial Bedroom is far from his best-selling or best-known album, and it’s not big anniversary year for the 1982 album. He played 12 of the albums’ 15 songs, but he didn’t play them in sequence, nor did he play them all together. Rather he interspersed them throughout the two-hour-plus concert with other cherry-picked gems from his career. So the bristling bash-and-crash of “Lipstick Vogue” was inserted between “The Loved Ones” and “…And in Every Home,” while a hushed, soulful “Shabby Doll” was the lead-in for a pulsatingly dramatic treatment of “Green Shirt.”
Costello wisely decided to mix things up on the Imperial Bedroom songs, too. The most radical re-invention of the night was a riveting rendition of “Tears Before Bedtime,” with the jaunty, Squeeze-like pop bounce of the album version abandoned in favor of slinky, almost dirge-like arrangement that musically matched the dark lyrics.
Likewise, on “Almost Blue” – performed with only Steve Nieve’s pink grand piano accompaniment – Costello sang in an achingly hushed, vulnerable, cracked-whisper of a voice much more closely aligned with Chet Baker’s cover than Costello’s own original recording.
“Alison” – performed with just backing vocalists Kitten Kuroi and YahZazarah St. James – was perfectly shimmering. And “Man Out of Time” was simply majestic, Nieve’s baroque filagrees delicately balanced by Pete Thomas’ power drumming.
The biggest disappointment of the night was “Watching the Detectives.” Although musically on target, Costello’s performance was undercut as he sang in near darkness, overshadowed by a parade of pulp fiction book covers and film noir posters projected on the overhead screen.
And while his voice started to sound a bit shaky during the encore of “Town Cryer,” Costello recovered with a sensuous swing ‘n’ sway through “Clubland” followed by a no-holds-barred blast through “Pump It Up” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding,” which finally brought the crowd to their feet.